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Collyn J. Nielsen: Responding to ‘Myers’ Musings’ about schools

Hart High School

Posted: July 3, 2010 7:25 p.m.
Updated: July 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.

I take great exception to Tim Myers’ comments (“What do high school rankings really mean?” June 27) regarding The Signal’s article and my comments about Hart and Valencia high schools making Newsweek’s list of America’s Best High Schools.

In these times of economic downturn and budget cuts, I am unsure why Myers would choose to degrade this outstanding accomplishment and accolade, which is so deserved by the educators at these two high schools. Despite suffering the cuts of millions of dollars from our district’s budget, despite classroom maximums being increased to 39 students, despite fewer instructional minutes because of furlough days and despite the personal financial impact of changes to their benefit packages and salary, the educators at all of the schools in the William S. Hart Union High School District continue to work tirelessly to provide an excellent education to their students.

When schools in our district receive state and national recognition, we should celebrate that achievement and not downplay it. These accomplishments are part of the reason why Santa Clarita is a fantastic place to raise your children; people move to this valley to take advantage of the outstanding school districts we have.

In his column, Myers made several comments I feel must be addressed. He wrote: “The principal of Hart High School also bragged about the high quality of education received at the comprehensive high school on Newhall Avenue.” I’m not sure what Myers expected me to do when the Newsweek list came out.

With all that is reported negatively about public schools, it is my obligation to our students, teachers and community to talk about the great things that happen as well. Also, is it bragging to report the facts about how students did at Hart High School?

Myers also said we have “school within a school” courses for the more “advanced students.” What he doesn’t say is that most Hart AP courses have open enrollment, and students do not have to be “advanced” to take them. We do not have a “school within a school” that isolates the advanced students from the others. It is not at all uncommon for us to have students with overall GPAs of less than 3.0 take AP courses and pass AP exams. 

Myers also speculates about the “dark side” of the AP system, and alleges that “AP teachers design the courses to ‘cram’ for the AP test.” This is incorrect. Our teachers, who have been trained by the College Board to teach these college-level courses, teach the curriculum that is prescribed by the College Board.

They do not know what exactly will be on the AP exam, so they cannot teach to the test. They teach the full course, and students do well because they have covered the entire course. The AP teachers have helped them develop the skills needed to do well on the AP exam and in their future college courses. Is this something for which they should be criticized? 

Myers writes: “A high school got on the list if it achieved an index score of “1.000,” which effectively meant that one half of its junior and senior class took at least one AP test.” This is misleading. Here is the formula, taken from Newsweek itself:
“We take the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge (AICE) tests given at a school each year and divide by the number of seniors graduating in May or June.” At Hart High, we also have large numbers of freshmen and sophomores taking AP classes successfully.

Myers tells his readers that “the Valencia and Hart indexes put them in the same range with public high schools in other desirable Southern California suburban locations including Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and the south Orange County suburbs of Irvine, Mission Viejo and Aliso Viejo.”

Actually, we were ranked above most of those schools. Furthermore, if he is suggesting that Newhall/Valencia is comparable in socioeconomic status to Irvine, Mission Viejo and Aliso Viejo, he does not understand much about Southern California demographics. The effect of socioeconomic status on student performance is tremendous.

It seems Mr. Myers does not seem to appreciate what we have done here with a student population that would suggest substantially lower performance on AP exams. 

Despite the naysayers out there who try to tear down the morale and accomplishments of the educators in our great public schools in Santa Clarita, I would like to once again congratulate the teachers, students, parents, and support staff who worked so hard and who are so well deserved of this recognition. There are 25,400 other public high schools across the country with principals who don’t get to offer these congratulations about being on this list. Great job!

Collyn J. Nielsen is principal of Hart High School. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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