Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston has racked up a series of impressive honors since its inception in 1988. It consistently ranks as one of the best or the best in the state, and it’s not unaccustomed to landing among the top high schools nationally.
Of course, you’d expect a school that gets to pick its students from the best in the state’s second-largest school district to be a state leader; we’d have some serious questions if it didn’t stand out.
But nation’s best is another thing entirely. Even if you question the precise measures U.S. News & World Report used to rank Academic Magnet the best public high school in the country — and there’s room to question the methodology behind pretty much all such rankings — this latest accolade is an important reminder that it’s on a very short list of schools that are doing the best job in the nation preparing our next generation of leaders.
So congratulations are in order for the teachers, students and administrators at Academic Magnet. Congratulations also to all the education and community leaders who envisioned and sustained the school over the past three decades.
Unlike most regular public schools and charter schools, Academic Magnet, like private schools, is able to turn away all but the very best students. So it’s not realistic to expect other public schools to compete academically.
This selectivity has sometimes led to a troubling lack of diversity at Academic Magnet, which is something that still needs to be more fully addressed.
But there are important lessons that all schools can learn from Academic Magnet’s success: Set rigorous standards, and demand excellence.
Even if students can’t all be expected to achieve the same level of academic excellence, we can, and should, challenge all of them. We can, and should, demand that they stretch, that they grow. We can, and we must, provide them with the teachers and the curricula that make that possible.
Unfortunately, not all schools in our state or in Charleston County are demanding and facilitating that sort of growth. And despite an optimistic start and bold promises, our state Legislature failed to deliver this year on legislation that would change that.
In order to learn to their fullest, students need good teachers who have the time to provide them individual attention.
In order to attract and retain enough good teachers, we have to have strong, supportive, capable principals to lead them and strong, supportive, capable superintendents to select, place and support those principals.
And that requires capable school board members who are committed to providing the best education possible to the students in their districts, which should be a given but too often isn’t.
Lawmakers did approve increasing teacher pay this year, to help stem the exodus of teachers from the classrooms. Next year, they must follow up on their promises to continue to improve teacher pay and working conditions, to enact reforms to the way we teach our students, and measure and govern our schools.
Only one school can be the best in the nation, and in the state, but every school can, and must, enable all students to be the best they possibly can be.