Best Schools 2010: The Honor Roll
From Acton to Wellesley, area high schools are offering students unprecedented opportunities to excel. Here, some standout programs that prepare kids for life beyond the classroom.
Wellesley High School
Wellesley students read and write — a lot. So do students in many other high-flying districts, of course, but what makes Wellesley different is how far the school’s English department goes to connect students with the subject. Kids aren’t just assigned summer reading; they have the opportunity to hear prominent writers speak (David McCullough, Robert Pinsky). Sophomores study the works of a single American author and write a thesis. The department also runs a lab that helps students with all things written. Says former English teacher and current assistant principal Jamie Chisum: “The courses are challenging, the expectations are high, but the support is really good.”
Acton-Boxborough Regional High School
Where some schools have jocks, AB has “mathletes.” The school’s 640 average math SAT score tops the state’s, and the math team placed number one among large schools in New England last year. The not-so-secret weapon is Bill Noeth, the head of the school’s math department, who plays up geeky humor in the classroom. Kids laugh, but they also learn their stuff. The curriculum builds to college-level calculus, advanced probability, and stats. There’s even independent study available in multivariable calculus.
Norwell High School
A couple of years ago, when the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation began doling out grants, the staff at Norwell High School didn’t just settle for creating a few new lesson plans. Rather, they looked to the grants as seed money for building a dedicated biotech lab and a full-year curriculum. “Our goal was to help students understand this new frontier of science, which is an important supply of jobs in our state,” says Norwell science coordinator Diane Provenzano. The school requires four years of lab science (most only ask for three). Students take biology their first year, ace the MCAS as sophomores (98 percent are proficient or advanced in math, 83 percent in science), then roll up their sleeves for APs in chemistry, physics, and biology. Or they can pursue interests in astronomy, energy and the environment, anatomy, or marine biology.
Bedford High School
“The important question isn’t ‘What?’ it’s ‘So what?’” says Bedford teacher Jim Sunderland, who was named Massachusetts History Day Teacher of the Year in 2009. “Take what happened and find the implication and resonance for our lives today.” Finding resonance doesn’t seem to be a problem at Bedford, where each history classroom has a document camera to study maps and newspaper articles, and interactive screens for collaborative web research. When Sunderland’s pupils were learning about Keynesian economics, they interviewed Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman. No wonder Bedford students have either won or been finalists in four of the past six National History Day contests.