On Apr. 22, U.S. News & World Report released its 2014 list of America’s best high schools. Both Paly and Gunn were among the three percent of American high schools that placed in the top 500 range. Because Gunn did not pass phase two of the ranking system in 2013, it was not included in last year’s list of top 500 high schools, but this year Gunn ranked 104th in the nation, 17th in California and fifth on the list of high-performing high schools in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects. “Obviously, it’s a huge acknowledgement for the school,” Principal Katya Villalobos said. “By any standard of measure, our school is doing incredibly well. There’s no other way to put it.”
Each year, U.S. News & World Report compiles its list by analyzing all public high schools within the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The magazine first compares student performance on state proficiency tests to the state average. After looking at reading and math results on these tests, U.S. News & World Report narrows down the list to schools whose students are performing above the state’s average results.
For the institutions that meet initial requirements, U.S. News & World Report then looks at economically disadvantaged students specifically. If these students perform above the state average for economically disadvantaged students, then the school moves onto the final step of examination.
Last year, the performance gap between the school average and the average of economically disadvantaged students led to Gunn’s disqualification at this phase. According to Villalobos, departments have since been working towards closing the performance gap between the school average and disadvantaged students by increasing available support.
This year, Gunn’s efforts paid off, and the school was able to move onto the concluding stage of analysis, which involves judging schools on college-readiness levels. U.S. News & World Report calculates a College Readiness Index from performance and participation rates in Advanced Placement (AP) exams.
For junior Victoria Wang, Gunn’s ranking on the list of high-performing schools in STEM is one to celebrate. “We focus a lot on math and sciences, which is great because giving people the opportunity to take those courses will foster more interest in those fields and guide students to pursue those careers,” Wang said. However, Wang notes that arts should be equally emphasized at school for a well-rounded environment. “I feel that our school has taken a natural tendency to go towards STEM because we’ve excelled in STEM, so they want to push harder to [move] even higher up,” she said. “But our arts is also lacking, and it takes much more energy and time to build that up.”
Sophomore Isaiah Katz also embraces Gunn’s ranking as well deserved. However, he believes that efforts can be made to improve emotional stability on campus given Gunn’s high academic pressures. “There are a lot of issues with students’ emotional security and mental state of being as well as a lot of classes allowing the wrong factors to drive students’ motivations,” he said. “Though Gunn is an excellent environment, there is a lot of pressure and standards of expectations that we can take steps to minimize.”
Ultimately, an amalgamation of multiple support systems assisted Gunn in its strive for excellence according to Villalobos. “This is obviously completely our students’ performance, but in that you also have the incredible hard work of the teachers and staff, the incredible resources provided by the community and parents directly, and all the opportunities our students are rewarded,” she said. Nevertheless, Gunn’s rankings do not define the school. “It is a recognition, it is an honor, but that’s not what Gunn’s about,” Villalobos said. “It’s always going to be about continuous improvement, regardless of rankings.”