This story was corrected on May 1, 2014. An explanation follows the story.
As Poolesville High School continues to top the charts in caliber and difficulty, some parents wonder where struggling students fit in.
It’s the fourth most challenging high school in the Washington D.C. area, and the 70th most difficult in the country, according to The Washington Post’s 2014 Most Challenging Schools Report, released on April 7. US News & World Report ranked the school third in the state. It’s an honor and a boon to business. But is it a strain for some local students?
The Montgomery County public magnet school serves Poolesville residents and the brightest kids from around the county, who must apply to get in to one of four magnet programs, including global ecology, humanities, science, math and computer science, and independent studies. The majority of local students also participate in the magnet programs. There are 547 local Poolesville students, and 649 from other parts of the county.
Recently some parents have gathered for conversations about the high school’s curriculum. Bob Cissel, whose two kids graduated from Poolesville High School before the expansion of magnet programs there, invited parents to his home on April 22 for discussion. Cissel said the group of parents that got together was not in opposition to the school or magnet programs, but wanted to open a discussion about serving kids at every level.
That it’s a top high school, “that’s great news,” Cissel said. “But you can’t ignore that small part of the population that’s not at that level.”
It’s about “making sure those kids don’t fall through the cracks,” he said.
He expects more parents to join at the next meeting he plans to host on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The group will invite a representative from the Parent Teacher Student Association to come to the meeting, Cissel said. Later the group plans to have a conversation with the school administration.
Principal Deena Levine said she believes every student can succeed at the high school.
“We offer an enormous amount of support to students,” she said. The school has an extra long lunch period so students have time to meet with teachers and get extra help.
Eight years ago the school expanded its magnet program.
“We were faced with declining enrollment and the county decided this would really boost our enrollment, placing the up-county magnet in Poolesville,” Levine said.
This brought in more kids taking high level classes. In the last several years the school has phased out regular level classes in some subjects, offering only honors classes in English, health and some social studies and science classes, Levine said.
Joyce Breiner, who serves as delegate for the Poolesville High School PTSA to the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said Poolesville High School used a county-outlined process for combining regular and honors classes, which says that the classes may be combined as long as the teacher is still addressing the needs of students at all levels.
“Our kids who were not in the [honors and magnet] program said they felt like were on the outside looking in,” Levine explained. Levine said that merging some of the classes where they could has supported a sense of cohesion.
The teachers, she said, “like having all the students together. They say the conversations are richer.”
Laura Carmack, whose son graduated from the global ecology magnet program last year, is now at Georgia Tech. She said, “he’s prepared to be there and some of his counterparts are having a hard time in college.”
Her other kids are a freshman and senior at Poolesville High School in the global ecology magnet program. “It’s really been good for my kids, it’s definitely pushed them,” she said.
But since the issue has been raised, Carmack said that she is confident that the school will “make sure the issue is taken to heart,” and the conversation addressed.
The Washington Post’s ranking relies on the ratio of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests administered, to students at the school. High scores on these tests can earn students college course credits. In Poolesville the ratio is 6.26 tests to one student over four years.
Hosting a top high school has also been part of keeping the town viable and attractive to families, and bringing customers to local businesses, said Commissioner Jerry Klobukowski.
“As for helping the town, yes, I think it is,” said Klobukowski. “A lot of people have moved to town for the high school.”
Cissel emphasized that he and other parents are supportive of the high school, but hope to have a conversation with administrators to ensure that all students’ needs are met.
A previous version of this story wrote that Poolesville High School was ranked 68th in the county by the Washington Post. Joyce Breiner’s position, previously described as, “delegate for the high school to the county public school system,” was also clarified.