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Having read the editorial "Signs of progress in Conn. and at NLHS" published May 15, I feel compelled to respond.
New London should take more than The Day's suggested "30 seconds to celebrate" for being awarded a Bronze medal as part of U.S. News & World Report's "2014 Best High Schools" rankings.
Great school-wide student performance averages may not tell the whole story of a truly "great school." Averages can be very misleading when a distribution is heavily skewed at one end. This is precisely why two of three steps in the methodology used by U.S. News & World Report examined not only school-wide performance, but performance of groups of students within a school.
Performance data, rather than "a level of improvement," as The Day inaccurately suggests, was used to determine national recognition. New London High School students outperformed state averages and nearly eliminated the achievement gap. U.S. News & World Report had to notice that across the state, 59.7 percent of African-American students scored as proficient or above on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT), whereas in New London, 81.3 percent of African-American students achieved proficiency - nearly equal to the 82.1 percent of white students who reached that level.
The Day is right to assert, "…no one would confuse the urban high school (NLHS) with the schools that received top academic ranking from the magazine."
The first two noteworthy criteria in the ranking methodology were strictly based on performance of all students in a school and is why NLHS earned Bronze. The third criterion was not as much a measure of performance, but a function of student participation in AP examinations.
In order to be considered for Silver or Gold, high participation was a requisite. Some schools achieved high participation rates as their doors are only open to gifted and talented students. NLHS is a school of diverse students and is inclusive as opposed to exclusive, what a great distinction to help limit any "confusion."
New London High School does not sift and sort kids. We celebrate our diversity and don't believe that only one path leads to success. Receiving a higher national ranking by requiring AP participation could compromise our core beliefs; requiring AP participation, may not allow students to experience our nationally recognized Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and music programs.
Furthermore, NLHS is open to all students - not just the gifted and talented. We don't filter kids through an application process, or make it so students have to enter a lottery to attend; we base our curriculum and course offerings on our students' needs.
For these reasons, the Bronze medal recognition is worth Gold.
Keep the celebration short? I don't think so. Our staff wore t-shirts in school the day after the national ranking announcement. A student approached me and asked, "Mr. Thompson, can I buy one of those t-shirts?" I tilted my head, smiling at her, knowing that she came from an extremely poor family and thinking, "Wow, she wants to buy a t-shirt that shows the academic ranking of our school."
The young scholar then said, "When I'm in the community and I tell people I go to New London High School, they always have something negative to say. I just want to rub this shirt in their faces!" Outside of NLHS, our kids read, see, feel, and hear a lot of negativity - to the point where sometimes, when something positive like this happens, you have to really take time, more than "30 seconds," and explain, and yes, celebrate their accomplishments.
We respectfully decline and reject The Day's advice to "…keep the celebration short and get back to work." The fact is, we never stopped working. It's necessary to celebrate the partnerships with our parents, the accomplishments of our teachers, support staff and administrators.
Above all, we're celebrating our students' accomplishments and their drive to work hard, be nice, and get better!
Tommy Thompson is the principal of New London High School.