SANDY — A private school serving 950 students from preschool to 12th grade has been named Utah's most challenging high school by the Washington Post.
For the annual report, which evaluates schools based on the number of college-level tests taken relative to the number of graduating students, the Waterford School in Sandy claimed the top spot in Utah and was ranked 159 in the nation.
Todd Winters, dean of admissions for the Waterford School, said the staff and administration are delighted by the recognition. But he added that the rankings, like any evaluation of school performance, are based on a narrow set of criteria and do not necessarily tell a full story.
"Our mission as a rigorous college preparatory school would draw students that are college bound and have high aspirations for doing college-level work while they’re in high school," Winters said. "I think in the end, ratings should be looked at very carefully as just that, it’s one index that pulls together one or two sources of data and conclusions are made."
Winters said that unlike public schools, which are charged with comprehensive programming, independent private schools like Waterford are able to be mission-driven. He said there are a number of exceptional schools in the state that may have been overlooked by the Washington Post's criteria, and parents should look beyond a single rating when selecting a school for their children to attend.
"At the end of the day, each family should look very carefully at what they want in a school, what they care about, what their educational philosophy is and then they should choose schools that will offer that kind of experience," he said.
Shelby Williams, a senior at BYU who graduated from the Waterford School in 2010, said she was excited when she heard the news about her alma mater and agreed that the honor is deserved.
"I would definitely say it was challenging," Williams said of her experience at Waterford. "I spent a lot more time on homework, and studying in general, than peers I had at the local high schools."
She said she felt well-prepared to enroll at BYU and had a smoother transition to the expectations of a university education than some of her classmates.
"It hasn’t been easy, but Waterford’s preparation makes it so you're not stressed or in too deep of water that you're drowning," she said.
One metric included in the Washington Post report — though it did not impact the rankings — was the percentage of students who qualify for lunch subsidies based on family income. The Waterford School had the lowest percentage of low-income students among the 11 most challenging schools in the state with a rate of 0.1 percent, or one out of every 1,000 students.
The remaining schools in Utah's top five were all traditional public high schools, including Skyline High School, Hillcrest High School, Park City High School and West High School.
Skyline Principal Doug Bingham credited a great student body and the support the school receives from parents for the school's high marks. He said the Skyline faculty has worked to develop an environment that encourages students to enroll in Advanced Placement courses and it's good to see those efforts having an effect.
"We encourage kids, if they feel like they want to, to take a shot at (AP testing)," he said. "If it doesn’t work out we can always make some adjustments later, but we encourage kids to jump in and do the best they can."
Bingham said there are always other metrics that can be used to determine school performance. But he added that in keeping with a goal of preparing students for work or education beyond high school, it makes sense to evaluate a school based on the number of students taking advanced coursework.
"Really we just want to do the best job we can helping kids learn as much as they can in school," Bingham said. "The competition is key. Whether you’re going to college or whether you’re trying to find work, it’s becoming more and more difficult."
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