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Goessel, Hillsboro high schools honored as 'best in the U.S.'

Sports reporter

It's no secret Goessel and Hillsboro have good schools.

Goessel High School has thrived in the standard of excellence testing since it began eight years ago, most recently meeting the excellence standard in five classes in reading, and sixth in math.

Hillsboro has done well with standardized testing as well, and graduated a class two years ago with an average of 24.8 on the ACT.

The national average ACT in 2004 was 20.9, and the state average was 21.6.

But this past week, the excellence of the two schools was awarded when U.S. News and World Report named them in their first study of "The Best High Schools," in the U.S.

The study looked at 18,790 schools in 40 states (10 were not analyzed because of incomplete data) and ranked the top schools in gold, silver, or bronze categories.

GHS and HHS were two of 1,086 schools to receive bronze awards. Blue Valley North of USD 229, was the only school in the state to be awarded a silver medal, and only one of 505 in the country to earn at least a silver. No schools in the state earned a gold standard.

But the small number of silver and gold medals should not be discouraging for Kansas, considering two of the 40 states analyzed didn't even receive a bronze award.

The process involved looking at standardized test scores from the 2005-06 school year, and created a "college readiness index," to see if "students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in their state," according to the magazine's web site.

Goessel USD 411 superintendent John Fast didn't even know the study was being conducted. He received an e-mail notification, but said he had his finger on the delete button because junk mail commonly comes in similar forms.

"It was a pleasant surprise," Fast said once he did some research on the award with counselor Janna Duerksen. "It's nice for a small school to be recognized by a national publication."

HHS principal Dale Honeck agreed.

"We really didn't have a clue. It was a good surprise," the principal in his final year at Hillsboro said. "The teachers deserve a real pat on the back."

Closing the gap

The study didn't look at GPAs or how many football games the schools won, instead it focused on standardized testing, AP classes (if available), and how the school catered to each and every student, not just the ones at the top.

It's called "Closing the Gap," and while the criteria on how that was judged is confusing, even to administrators at both schools, apparently GHS and HHS did a good job teaching each and every student.

Economics and race were factors in how the study determined how well the school closed the gap, as well as the "college readiness index."

Honeck believes Hillsboro takes a well-rounded approach to teaching each student, and the parents, from all economic backgrounds, are involved in their child's educational life.

"Anybody will tell you the parents are most important to a child's education," Honeck said. "If they are connected to the school, it's better."

HHS student-counselor Linda Holub echoed that sentiment.

"I think you have a community of parents who want their kids to get a good education," she said, "and they are supportive of the school."

Good press

Fast, who is in his 12th year in the Goessel school district, is still excited about the award. He, Duerksen, and first-year principal Marc Grout, were talking in their office this past week about the best possible date to present an award to the school.

And while a plaque is nice, it's the recognition of the hard work everyone at the school puts in day in, and day out, that pleased Fast the most.

He also thinks the school shouldn't be measured just by the award, but by the students themselves.

"The awards are nice, but what ultimately counts is how the students are doing when they get out in the work force," he said. "It's one small indication of a whole big picture of achievement."

While there is no exact way to measure the success of graduates, Duerksen does have the students who are one year out of school fill out an alumni survey which gives the administration an idea of how the students feel about the education they received at Goessel.

"It's kind of like a report card for us," Duerksen said.

This award should put an "A" somewhere on the school's "report card."

Fast is hoping residents outside of Marion County, which was one of just 31 counties out of the state's 105 to receive an award, realize it is a good place to live.

"It's great for Marion County," he said. "It's true enrollment is dropping at all five [county] schools, but that doesn't mean the quality of education is down.

"That speaks a testament to the quality of education that is going on here."

Even if the exact formula for the awards is hard to calculate for those other than the ones conducting the survey, everyone at both schools are just glad to be recognized.

Honeck is glad to see the students and teachers who work hard to do well on standardized tests, but not at the expense of trying to have a well-rounded education, awarded for their efforts.

He says the principal really has nothing to do with it.

"We have some really good teachers here," he said.

And Honeck's counterpart at Goessel, Grout, agrees: the teachers play a big role.

"I'm not sure how much credit I can take," he said, "but I do think it speaks volumes to the quality of staff that has been in place the past several years."

And while everyone at both schools was excited for the award, and the recognition it brings to their schools, they all know that education never stops.

Honeck, who will retire at the end of the school year, can't help but crack a little smile when talking about his school.

"Nobody thinks it's perfect," he said, "but obviously we're doing ok."

For a full report on "The Best High Schools," go to www.usnews.com.

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