Top-scoring metro Atlanta high schools small in size, big on rigor

Metro Atlanta’s top high schools in Tuesday’s new report card are small and specialized, with focused instruction on math, science, the arts or college prep.

These schools combine tough academic curriculums with individualized help for students in need, resulting in an environment in which success is the only option, said principals and parents.

The region’s four premier high schools share a few characteristics: They are charter, magnet or early college schools, and they attract students from families that must go through selective admissions processes or lotteries.

The highest-scoring metro Atlanta high school, Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, is a charter school that aims to have all of its students outperform expectations, said Principal Jeff Mathews.

“It’s combining the appropriate amount of rigor with the highest amount of support so that students can reach those high levels,” Mathews said of the 766-student school. “Students will respond to high expectations.”

The report card, called the College and Career Ready Performance Index, grades and ranks every public school in Georgia based on academics, readiness for advancement, graduation rates, progress and achievement gaps.

At the No. 2 school in the region, Early College High School at Carver in the Atlanta school district, extra tutoring on Saturdays and after regular school hours allows students to catch up in deficient areas, said Principal Marcene Thornton.

“Some people will pretend we only get geniuses at this school, but we only get average kids here, and the climate here pushes them to push themselves to new heights,” said Thornton, whose school has 325 students enrolled. “Our small size makes it possible for us to keep abreast of the progress of every child every day.”

Parents of students in two DeKalb County schools — DeKalb School of the Arts and DeKalb Early College Academy — said their children are taught to be independent and reach toward high standards. The schools ranked third and fourth on the metro Atlanta list.

“The professors teach them as if they’re young men and women. They’re given tasks, and it’s up to that student to be responsible enough to turn in assignments when they’re due,” said Necole Whisenant, whose daughter is a sophomore at the 259-student DeKalb Early College Academy. “It’s no joke. It’s pretty hard. If you have the right mindset, and you’re willing to go above and beyond, you’ll do really well.”

The best-performing school systems on the high school level in the Atlanta area were Forsyth County Schools and Buford City Schools.

The lowest-ranking high schools in the region, on average, were in Atlanta Public Schools.

Underperforming districts in the report card tend to serve many students from low-income households in which, for varying reasons, there is often less parental involvement in the education process. These school districts also have more alternative schools for students with disciplinary problems, which drags down their rankings.

Atlanta education officials will research why their students are behind, an d the school district is working with educational experts to decide how to improve, said school system spokesman Stephen Alford.

“While we are below the state in our average results, some of our schools are achieving at the highest levels,” Alford said. “As a district, we will remain relentless in implementing programs that move all of our schools toward high levels of achievement.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.