RCHS ranked 37th of 322 Va. schools by U.S. News

In addition to its scenic vistas and rural charms, Rappahannock County now boasts the 37th best high school in Virginia, superintendent Dr. Donna Matthews informed the county school board last Thursday night (April 24).

That ranking comes from U.S. News & World Report, Matthews said, which annually ranks Virginia’s high schools, as well as those across the nation. RCHS ranked 37 out of Virginia’s 322 high schools — higher than 89 percent of Virginia’s high schools, and well ahead of any school in Rappahannock’s neighboring counties.

“A lot of hard work went into this,” a visibly proud Matthews said. “This has been in the making for several years.”

As Jackson district representative Amy Hitt noted, the top schools are (not surprisingly) centered around urban areas. The closest neighboring competitor to Rappahannock’s ranking is Manassas Park at 40.

The good news didn’t stop there, as Matthews said the U.S. News ranking puts the Panthers higher than 92 percent of public high schools in the nation. Of the 19,400 U.S. high schools, RCHS ranks 1,608th.

Matthews explained that to be eligible for a state ranking, schools must first receive a national gold or silver medal from U.S. News, which is calculated by the magazine from a school’s student-to-teacher ratio, “college readiness” and math and reading performance scores.

According to the U.S. News statistics, Rappahannock has 338 students enrolled, giving it a 12:1 student-to-teacher ratio — slightly below the Virginia average. RCHS also enjoys district averages of 96 and 62 percent for reading and math proficiency, respectively. According to U.S. News, RCHS also has a college readiness rating — a proprietary formula that factors in AP test scores — of 23.9.

While the math readiness is slightly below the state average — and a focus in both schools this year — the reading score is well above it, Matthews noted.

Both those proficiency rankings are based on students’ performances on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests — the math portion of which was updated to reflect higher standards just last year. According to the U.S. News statistics, 41 percent of Rappahannock students achieved a “proficient” rating, while 55 percent were considered “advanced.”

Only 4 percent of RCHs students failed the reading SOL.

In contrast, 38 percent failed the math SOL, though the majority of students — 61 percent — were deemed proficient. Only 2 percent reached an advanced ranking.

“I’m extremely happy and pleased with our students and staff,” Matthews said. “We’re a small school making a big difference.”

Matthews also noted that she considered the ranking a cooperative effort between the elementary and high school. “When these kids walk across that stage, it’s because of everyone, from kindergarten through 12th grade.”

2014-15 school schedule adopted

The board also spent a significant portion of Thursday’s meeting discussing the 2014-15 school calendar, which Matthews said reflected changes that both staff and parents had requested.

Matthews explained that seven versions of the calendar had been created by a calendar committee of representatives from the elementary and high schools, parents, transportation and central office employees. After several weeks of meetings, Matthews said the committee had narrowed it down to two versions of the calendar; a majority of staff — 128 of RCPS’ 144 — voted for version the board ultimately adopted.

That calendar had summer school running June 7-30 (Monday-Thursday), with school officially beginning Aug. 13 and ending May 28. Both of these dates, Matthews said, were because RCPS staff had requested school not continue into June.

The big change, Matthews said, was the addition of five snow days — after an exceptionally harsh winter that cost Rappahannock schools 17 school-day cancellations. Matthews also proposed rolling over the snow days: In the unlikely event they weren’t all taken away by snow, any remaining days would be used to shorten the end of the school year.

Hitt worried that granting kids days off at the end of the year could cause families to leave early for vacation and miss graduation — which, Matthews said, would remain fixed on May 29.

“I feel like we’re going to use them,” high school principal Michael Tupper countered.

“People know when graduation is,” agreed Wakefield board member Chris Ubben. “There’s no reason they can’t come back for it.”

Piedmont’s Aline Johnson pointed out that calendars “are always a compromise,” and concluded that “if 80 percent [of the staff] voted for it, I don’t see how we can go wrong.”

The rest of the board agreed, and the calendar was unanimously approved, 4-0. (Larry Grove was absent.) To see the full calendar, visit boarddocs.com/vsba/rcpsva/Board.nsf/Public.