Blind Brook High School

Quantifying anything as "best" is not an easy task. Newsweek Magazine, however, has made an effort to determine high schools across the United States that do the best job of preparing students for college, and Blind Brook High School made it into the top 10.

"It's always gratifying to receive recognition of a positive nature," said Blind Brook Superintendent William Stark.

The superintendent thanked everyone in the Blind Brook community-students, teachers, administrators, staff and even taxpayers-for making Blind Brook the great school district that it is.

The Director of Guidance and Counseling, Mary Mediate, also said it is always a team effort to get results like the ones that garnered Blind Brook a place in the top 10.

"We have hardworking kids, hardworking staff, hardworking administrators, hardworking teachers and we have a Board of Education that believes in the education of the whole child and really supports the entire educational process, and that's a win-win situation," she said.

Blind Brook High School's college readiness score of 99.41 earned it the ninth place slot on the list. For comparison, the first place school, Thomas Jefferson High in Virginia, had a score of 99.93.

Blind Brook has made it into Newsweek's top 100 high schools before, most recently placing 95 in 2013. While the jump in placement looks very impressive, comparing last year's score with this year's it not so easy. Since then, Newsweek has changed their methodology, incorporating new aspects and starting with public data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics rather than relying solely on data reported from the schools as they did last year.

One of the new factors was counselor-to-student ratio. A low ratio guarantees that counselors can get to know students well and vice versa, Mediate explained. When a counselor has a good relationship with a student, she added, that results in good advice when selecting courses and better letters of recommendation to colleges.

Other data the district provided Newsweek included the number of students enrolled and how many actually graduated, showing the stability of the cohort, and how many students were accepted into college and how many enrolled. They also asked for the number who took the SAT and/or the ACT and the average scores. They also wanted to know how many Advanced Placement courses Blind Brook offers, the number of students who took at least one and the average score. For 2011-12, Mediate said 146 students took at least one AP course, there were a total of 303 AP exams taken and students who sat for them received an average score of 4.1 out of 5.

Data from 2011-12

It is important to keep in mind that the data used in the analysis is several years out of date and most of the students whose hard work contributed to it are now in college, some even heading into their junior year. Newsweek and U. S. News & World Report rankings used data from the 2011-2012 school year to create their college readiness scores.

Since the information used to compile the college readiness rankings is several years old, the statistics on how many Blind Brook students actually headed to college after graduation is likewise available.

"In 2012, 98% of our graduates entered higher education: 93% to four-year colleges and 5% to two-year-colleges," Mediate said.

Unlike judging readiness, how many students actually attended is a more solid statistic, Stark said. The high college acceptance rate is something that occurs year after year in the district, he added.

Former principal's thoughts

While no longer principal at the high school, Gina Healy was the administrator in charge during that school year.

"I think that Blind Brook has always been a strong school district with a fine program," said Healy, who handed over the reins of the high school to Patricia Lambert in 2013 to become the assistant superintendent for human resources in the Bedford Central School District. Principals play a role in terms of student achievement, Healy said, and she was glad to contribute to Blind Brook's effort. "I think leadership does make a difference in regards to setting the bar high and having high expectations for what's happening in the classroom," she added.

Healy agreed with Stark and Mediate on the major players involved in creating a quality school district. She specifically singled out parents, too, and the support they provide students.

"It's always flattering to receive any kind of accolade or award," she said. Healy did caution that this is only one measure and that rankings can be fickle. "Sometimes you do well and sometimes your don't and it's not completely clear."

U. S. News & World Report

In the past Blind Brook has often touted its ranking on the U. S. News and World Report's similar list of top high schools in the country, breaking into the top 100 with places at 75, 55 and 80 in the past 10 years. This year, however, Blind Brook was unranked and not included in their listing.

"They had a series of criteria that related to matters we do not have control over," Stark said.

The school district looked into the reasons for not being included in the study and were told it has to do with the high school's poverty index. Because Blind Brook has some students in poverty but only a couple, one student can be enough to skew the data. "The school district was not allowed to compete because of that," Stark explained.

For several years Blind Brook was unranked by Newsweek for similar reasons. Whenever they asked for data, the school district provided it but some years there never got the inquiry.

Any statistic or ranking-even a good one-needs to be taken with a grain of salt, the superintendent said.

"The reality is that there are different definitions of what constitutes readiness for college," he said, using a term often heard when talking about the Common Core State Standards. What New York State considers college readiness is not the same as what Newsweek or even U. S. News does.

Even if a ranking like this is not the end-all, be-all of what makes a great school, Stark did say that he much prefers it when Blind Brook comes out on top.