Making the Grade

The right high school for every kind of student.

Edited by Evan Serpick. Written by Jess Blumberg, Jessica Leshnoff, and Evan Serpick.

Poly offers college-level science courses including genetics and organic chemistry. –Photo by Christopher Myers

Once was, choosing where you went to high school was as simple as finding the closest one. But families have more choices today than ever before. In recent years, local public school systems seem to have recognized that not every school works for every student, and have introduced a wide range of charter and magnet schools, emphasizing everything from technology to the arts. At the same time, the number of private and religious school options has increased, with each offering its own unique approach to education. It can be bewlidering for familes to consider. We researched more than 100 public and private schools in the Baltimore region and identified several excellent programs with outstanding benefits for particular kinds of students. These are not necesarily the highest achieving schools—there are no rankings here—but you might find the best school for your family among them.

Public

Baltimore City

Best School for . . . Inventors
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
1400 W. Cold Spring Ln., 410-396-7026, bpi.edu

The vast flight simulation and aerodynamics lab at Poly looks unlike any classroom in Baltimore. For one thing, there’s an eight-foot model plane crashing through one of the walls. Nearby is a WeatherBug, which monitors global weather. In one corner is a tether where students fly handmade aircraft, competing to see who achieves the greatest height and thrust. And in the back are two rows of flight simulators.“They basically do what I did in the Air Force,” says Major Roger Gauret, a 20-year Air Force veteran who runs the lab. He says Poly’s history of excellence inspires staff to attempt things not common in urban schools. “There’s an environment that allows teachers to go where they wouldn’t normally go.”Since 1883, Poly has been among Baltimore’s best schools, a haven for right-brain thinkers: engineers, scientists, doctors, and inventors. One long wall near the school’s entrance, called the “Wall of Patents,” documents hundreds of inventions by Poly grads. Another trumpets the success of the school’s robotics teams. Poly is the most selective of the city’s public schools: Of about 2,000 eighth graders who list Poly as their first choice of high school, roughly 450 will enter the freshman class.“Students who have a genuine love for math and science do well at Poly,” says principal Dr. Barney Wilson, a 1976 Poly grad rumored to be stepping down before the 2010-11 school year. “Students who want rigor, want to be challenged, do well here.”

Best School for . . . Future Diplomats
Baltimore City College High School
3220 The Alameda, 410-396-6557, baltimorecitycollege.us

Baltimore’s oldest high school rivalry is City-Poly—or as Poly grads call it, Poly-City. Besides the annual football showdown, which dates back to 1889 (Poly leads 60-54-6), the schools have consistently been considered Baltimore’s top two public high schools, with very different curricula.While Poly concentrates on math and the sciences, City is geared toward classic liberal arts and humanities, and is the only city public school to appear on Newsweek’s list of the country’s top high schools, at number 520. City is also Baltimore’s only public high school to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, a United Nations-affiliated curriculum for the eleventh and twelfth grades that was originally geared to children of diplomats. It includes rigorous training to improve students’ creative thinking, with an emphasis on languages, international cultures, the arts, and service.In recent years, City has added the Middle Years Programme, an extension of the IB curriculum for ninth and tenth graders. As part of the program, tenth graders complete a year-long personal project, in which they confront a confounding question in their lives, conduct research, and create a completely original project to address it. This past year, Crystal Martin wrote a work of historical fiction, presented in a multimedia scrapbook, to explore how the legacy of slavery continues to impact African-Americans. Chelsea Bennet took on low self-esteem among teens by creating a website, selfesteem4teens.org, with advice and resources for teens and parents.“All of our students are gifted, but they come from diverse backgrounds, with diverse interests,” says Sarah Heinrich, a City English teacher. “With the IB program, we can get all of them to explore their unique passions, while also challenging them to excel.”

Best School for . . . Future Stars
Baltimore School for the Arts
712 Cathedral St., 443-642-5165, bsfa.org

Norma Pera, BSA’s dance department head, remembers Tupac Shakur as a friendly acting student who would occasionally fill in as an extra on dance productions. Music chair Dr. Chris Ford remembers Jada Pinkett-Smith as a bubbly presence with a lot of friends.Of course, not everyone who graduates from BSA becomes a mega-star, but a high percentage of alums go on to impressive professional careers in the arts. Among recent grads are conductor Andrew Grams, who has led the orchestras of Baltimore, Cleveland, and Chicago, and four members of the world-renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, along with Broadway actors, leaders of arts nonprofits, educators, and authors. Admission to the school is based entirely on auditions in one of four areas: visual art, music (vocal or instrumental), theater, and dance—academic records are not even reviewed. Most of the students are drawn from Baltimore City middle schools, and many have been involved in the school’s TWIGS program (To Work in Gaining Skills), which offers free after-school and Saturday classes for local kids in elementary and middle school.Once admitted to the school, students are required to carry a full academic load, along with conservatory-level training in their area of expertise. It’s an incredible amount of work for teenagers. Pera, who has been auditioning young dancers for 31 years—she accepts about 20 out of roughly 150 who apply each year—says she can tell during the auditions which ones can handle it.“You get them a little bit tired, and then you ask them to do something extremely difficult,” she says. “Right away, you can see the ones who’ll make it. They just get a look in their eye.”

Best School for . . . Professional Mentorship
National Academy Foundation
500 N. Caroline St., 443-984-1594, nafhighschool.org

In a lot of ways, NAF feels more like a small town than a school. For one thing, there’s a bank downstairs, a fully-functional branch of the Municipal Employees Credit Union (MECU)—the only one run entirely by students. There’s also a full-scale commercial kitchen and serving area, called Aroma Café, and a court room, complete with judge’s bench and jury box, is in the works.NAF administrators call each of these areas a “living classroom,” a real-world setting where students learn firsthand skills. Each one corresponds to one of the school’s five training schools, called Academies: There are Academies of Finance, Hospitality and Tourism, Information Technology, Law and Leadership, and, new for 2010-11, Engineering.“The idea is to get students engaged by focusing on their area of interest,” says principal Karen Webber-N’Dour, a former lawyer who became an educator after being disappointed with the way her own children’s schools were run. Even though it only opened seven years ago, without charter or magnet status, NAF has quickly risen to become one of the city’s most high-performing schools—and one of its most competitive.Beyond the life-like classrooms, NAF students’ education continues in the real world, where students shadow employees at high-profile companies in their field of interest. Academy of Finance students work with employees at T. Rowe Price and Merrill Lynch; Hospitality and Tourism students work with Hilton, Marriott, and the Tremont Hotels. Often, the internships lead to summer jobs. “I can’t walk into the Tremont lobby without being bombarded by students,” says Webber-N’Dour. “HR departments all over town know the kind of people who come from NAF.”

Baltimore City Public High Schools Enrollment Student-Teacher Ratio AYP* Math/Reading Graduation Rate % College-Bound %*
Academy For College and Career 416 13-1 67/55 82 45
Augusta Fells Savage Institute 639 17-1 39/54 48 39
Baltimore City College 1,339 18-1 89/94 97 75
Baltimore Freedom Academy 564 13-1 30/50 86 52
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute 1,615 19-1 100/100 99 80
Baltimore School For The Arts 370 15-1 100/97 98 70
Baltimore Talent Development 490 15-1 77/62 78 47
Carver Vocational-Technical High 926 14-1 70/77 89 37
ConneXions Community (Gr. 6-10) 337 12-1 40/64 N/A N/A
Coppin Academy 333 14-1 99/81 94 65
Digital Harbor High 1,061 15-1 75/76 80 51
Doris M. Johnson High 471 15-1 43/49 66 38
Edmondson-Westside High 1,070 14-1 74/77 89 43
Forest Park High 717 15-1 48/60 69 43
Francis M. Wood Alternative High 380 15-1 33/0 1 0
Frederick Douglass High 1,077 15-1 42/49 55 33
Harbor City High 352 10-1 36/30 22 16
Heritage High 823 16-1 47/48 42 37
Independence School Local I 103 15-1 N/A/N/A 78 14
Institute of Business and Entrepren. 513 13-1 35/41 73 33
Maritime Industries Academy 552 16-1 46/71 53 36
Masonville Cove Comm. Academy 250 12-1 34/55 N/A N/A
MD Acad. of Tech./Health (Gr. 6-11) 370 12-1 44/60 N/A N/A
Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical 1,469 15-1 89/82 92 49
National Academy Foundation 382 14-1 83/85 94 52
New Era Academy 378 14-1 77/73 84 59
New Hope Academy 169 N/A 2/20 17 0
Northwestern High 948 15-1 45/51 66 38
Patterson High 1,637 14-1 60/58 75 36
Paul Laurence Dunbar High 553 18-1 99/94 100 61
Reginald F. Lewis High 549 17-1 49/63 71 44
Renaissance Academy 325 14-1 67/51 87 64
Southside Academy 308 12-1 78/58 78 42
Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts 443 15-1 53/62 46 29
W.E.B. DuBois High 611 14-1 54/50 73 25
Western High 855 20-1 99/100 100 71
* AYP is the percentage of students making adequate yearly progress, as determined by state testing; College Bound shows the percentage of students who plan to go on to 2-year or 4-year colleges after graduation.

Public

Baltimore County

Best School to . . . Get a Jump on College
Dulaney High School
255 East Padonia Rd., Timonium, 410-887-7633, dulaneyhs.bcps.org

Dulaney’s roster of Advanced Placement (AP) classes is a high-achieving student’s dream come true. The offerings—25 in all—read like a college course catalog. There’s human geography, macro and microeconomics, Latin, European history, and music theory. Even freshman are able to take an AP class (biology), and sophomores can take AP world history, psychology, and statistics. Equally impressive are the statistics associated with the Timonium school’s annual AP exams. A whopping 53 percent of the school’s 2010 graduates took and passed Advanced Placement exams, helping Dulaney to earn the number 253 spot on Newsweek’s list of the best high schools in the country—the highest-ranking school in Baltimore County.In addition to its AP classes, Dulaney offers lots of programs you won’t find in other schools, from classes in Mandarin Chinese and a unique student-exchange program with a school in China, to its clubs, athletic teams, and interest groups, including a Ping-Pong team and a hide-and-go-seek club. Principal Patrick McCusker, who teaches an algebra class to help stay plugged into his student body, says it’s all about engaging students: “We’ll do whatever it takes to get kids involved in something here.”

Best School for . . . CSI Wannabes
Randallstown High School
4000 Offutt Rd., Randallstown, 410-887-0748, randallstownhs.bcps.org

Analyzing blood splatter isn’t just for TV dramas anymore. It’s also for students in the Biosciences Technology Magnet Program at Randallstown High School.Students in the program take a series of college-level science courses like chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and microbiology. In eleventh grade, the fun part begins as they study forensic science. On an average day, you’ll see students in lab coats evaluating a mock crime scene complete with shell casings, blood splatter, and evidence markers. Other students are analyzing hair follicles under microscopes on the black lab tables. And others are using electrophoresis gel to determine DNA. Teachers use real-life cases and evidence to see if students can use their scientific and technological skills to determine the suspect.Plus, they get to go on some pretty thrilling field trips, like expansive tours at forensic labs at the University of Maryland, the state police headquarters in Pikesville, and bioscience labs at area hospitals.“Clearly television has heightened everyone’s interests in forensic science,” says principal Cheryl Pasteur. “But what makes it so intriguing is that it pulls students’ interests to a different level of detail. This sort of work makes them very careful and cognizant about what they’re doing—which can apply quite wonderfully to their life in general.”

Best School for . . . Techies
Chesapeake High School
1801 Turkey Point Rd., Essex, 410-887-0100, chesapeakehs.bcps.org

Chesapeake High School’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) isn’t so much a classroom as it is a mission control center. Walking into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) magnet school’s “classroom of the future”—where students learn through the use of interactive, highly sophisticated “gaming” simulations—is breathtaking. Enormous flat screens line the walls, two or three giant computer monitors sit at each student work station, oversized joy sticks and powerful hard drives glow blue and red. Launched in 2009, Chesapeake’s VLE was among the first in the nation, the result of a collaboration between Baltimore County Public Schools, Johns Hopkins, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Hunt Valley-based video game developer Breakaway Games, and game-oriented training developer TrainingPort Strategies, also based in Hunt Valley. After a presentation in the dimly lit VLE arena room, students go next door to the lab to work in groups using gaming technology to solve real-world problems—like the environmental fallout from Mt. St. Helens. They bring in skills from other disciplines by writing accompanying news releases and studying historical data. Groups then gather back in the arena room to present and defend their findings. Chesapeake’s science program extends beyond the VLE progam and includes magnet programs in aerospace engineering, environmental science, and computer science. The school also sent two robotics teams to Dallas this year to compete in the Vex Robotics World Championship—one team finished 31st out of 98 teams.The exploration of the science world extends even to the cafeteria, where engineers from nearby Lockheed Martin come for monthly lunchtime talks.

Best School for . . . Real-Life Experience
Towson High School
69 Cedar Ave., Towson, 410-887-3608, towsonhs.bcps.org

High school students often have ideas about careers they might like. At Towson, they can test some of them out. About a quarter of the senior class at Towson—consistently one of the top-performing schools in Baltimore County—participate in the School to Career program, leaving school midday to work as interns at high-profile players in their fields, from The Sun to the FBI.“Students are able to connect, network, and actually see concrete application of what they’re learning in school,” says principal Dr. Jane Barranger. “Sometimes even more valuable is when students realize that might not be the path for them before it’s too late.”And for those considering a legal career, Towson’s Law and Public Policy magnet program gives aspiring lawyers a sneak peek into that world. Students take a variety of courses—some taught by a lawyer on the faculty—including law research, international law, civil rights and liberties, and criminal law. Even more lifelike, students prepare arguments and present them in a mock trial, which takes place in a model courtroom in the school. “We provide students a chance to fuse academics with the real world,” says Barranger.

Baltimore County Public High Schools Enrollment Student-Teacher Ratio AYP* Math/Reading Graduation Rate % College-Bound %*
Catonsville High 1,735 15-1 91/90 91 68
Chesapeake High 1,071 12-1 74/76 81 43
Dulaney High 1,879 16-1 96/96 92 76
Dundalk High 1,240 12-1 81/66 66 37
Eastern Technical High 1,283 16-1 100/100 99 74
Franklin High 1,546 14-1 92/82 87 63
G.W. Carver Center 746 12-1 98/95 99 76
Hereford High 1,387 16-1 97/97 94 68
Kenwood High 1,762 13-1 76/72 81 36
Landsdowne High 1,285 13-1 78/71 74 43
Loch Raven High 1,027 15-1 95/89 88 71
Milford Mill Academy 1,289 13-1 71/81 86 53
New Town High 957 13-1 83/81 88 58
Overlea High 1,073 13-1 84/76 81 45
Owings Mills High 1,015 13-1 83/80 81 64
Parkville High 1,693 13-1 88/87 87 55
Patapsco High 1,462 14-1 93/88 85 51
Perry Hall High 2,265 17-1 99/88 89 68
Pikesville High 913 14-1 88/93 91 75
Randallstown High 1,208 14-1 71/75 83 61
Sparrows Point High 792 13-1 91/88 85 54
Towson High 1,384 15-1 97/96 94 75
Western School of Technology 873 14-1 95/93 99 74
Woodlawn High 1,641 12-1 63/72 73 51
* AYP is the percentage of students making adequate yearly progress, as determined by state testing; College Bound shows the percentage of students who plan to go on to 2-year or 4-year colleges after graduation.

Private

 

Best School for . . . Over-Achievers
Gilman School
5407 Roland Ave., Baltimore, 410-323-3800, gilman.edu

When Gilman’s director of admissions, Bill Gamper, walks into one of the school’s wood-paneled classrooms where bow-tied math teacher Jeff Gouline is explaining ratios, all of the boys smile.“Hi, Mr. Gamper,” a couple of them whisper. It’s not that the boys remember the administrator from the admissions process—many have been going here since first grade. Rather, Gamper, like all faculty and administrators at Gilman, is a regular presence in their lives.Gilman has a reputation for producing men of great repute, including former Governor Bob Ehrlich, Representative John Sarbanes, Legg Mason CEO Mark Fetting, and author Frank DeFord. A few years ago, Worth magazine ranked the school 30th in the country—and number one in Maryland—for its record of sending graduates to Ivy League schools. Some of Gilman’s success can be attributed to its college-level faculty, its rigorous academic programs—in which students can take classes at neighboring Bryn Mawr and Roland Park Country School—and its “country school” philosophy, in which students are expected to fully participate in sports and extracurricular activities.But the key to producing exceptional young men, says headmaster John Schmick, is the close relationship between students, faculty, and administrators. All faculty at Gilman are involved in sports or extracurricular activities, most administrators—including the headmaster, director of admissions, and business manager—teach classes, and every freshman has a mentor on staff who meets with him at least once a week and stays with him through his high school career.“Developing that relationship is crucial,” says Schmick. “If you have that relationship, you can to help mold a child, and that’s what we try and do.”

Best School to . . . Find Your Voice
Park School of Baltimore
2425 Old Court Rd., Pikesville, 410-339-7070, parkschool.net

When it turned out that two of the most creative rock bands making it big nationally—Animal Collective and Yeasayer—were not only both from Baltimore, but that members of both bands went to the same small high school, some people were surprised. They might be more surprised to learn that the same school has produced Oscar-winning filmmakers, Tony-winning playwrights, and Pulitzer-winning journalists. If so, they don’t know Park.“Park is good at unlocking what is in kids,” says Kevin Coll, an English teacher and director of the school’s writing center. “Kids are not animals to be tamed, they’re flowers to be nurtured, and that approach is very real around here.”The school’s appeal begins with a vast array of classes and facilities, particularly in the arts and writing programs, designed to teach students to express themselves by getting them to focus on things they’re interested in. Park offer classes in songwriting, jewelry-making, and architecture, supports a Klezmer ensemble, and maintains recording studios adorned with Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead posters, where students study studio engineering and produce regular podcasts.Students meet regularly with advisors, and teachers and administrators collaborate to create individualized programs tailored to help each young person reach his or her potential. “We believe strongly that expression can be taught through kids’ passions,” says Coll.

Best School for . . . Non-Traditional Learners
Jemicy School
11202 Garrison Forest Rd., Owings Mills, 410-653-2700, jemicyschool.org

In a field behind Jemicy’s upper-school campus, you’ll find an odd assortment of materials, including pieces of disassembled bicycles, corrugated metal sheets, iron bars, and blue papier maché.Jemicy caters to talented, capable students with dyslexia or other language-based learning difficulties. Thanks to advances in brain research and testing, Jemicy faculty are now able to pinpoint each student’s area of difficulty and use specific technologies to support their learning. So, if a student has trouble translating thoughts into written words, there is a dictation program. If a student has trouble organizing thoughts, they use software that helps them create thought bubbles and arrange them.But the most important aspect of Jemicy’s curriculum—and something head of school Ben Shifrin says all schools could use more of—is multi-sensory education. “It’s not strictly lecture, take notes, and take a test,” says Shifrin, who grew up struggling with dyslexia. “It’s really about experiential education, experiencing what we do.”And that’s where the field of random materials comes in: Every year for the past seven years, Jemicy students have competed in the American Visionary Art Museum’s Kinetic Sculpture Race. Over the course of a year, students use physics, design, mechanics, and fine art skills—not to complete exercises on paper, but to imagine, model, build, and race a vehicle that can travel on land, sea, mud, and sand in the 15-mile annual race. In 2010, Jemicy students fielded five entries, including one—a giant blue octopus-bike with four peddlers—that won the engineering award for the most ingenious sculpture design.“The truth is that we’re just doing excellent education,” says Shifrin, who notes that the Baltimore City public school system has sent some of its teachers to Jemicy for training. “If other schools would adopt some of our methodologies, there wouldn’t need to be a Jemicy.”

Best School for . . . Tomorrow’s Leaders
Roland Park Country School
5204 Roland Ave., Baltimore,410-323-5500, rpcs.org

The area around Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue looks like a sprawling university campus. Besides the august buildings of Gilman, Bryn Mawr, and Roland Park Country School—which occupy three of the intersection’s four corners—there are the modern walkways over the busy streets that connect the three schools. These walkways are part of the tri-school coordination program that allows students at each of the three schools to take classes at any of them.This is just one of the many ways RPCS prepares its students for the future—not just for college, but for the global, technology-driven world they are watching develop.In 2002, RPCS was the first school in the area to issue laptops to all students, beginning in seventh grade, and use them as the basis for instruction. Students use the computers to take notes, access maps, videos, and audio, create their own multimedia presentations, and collaborate with peers. In eleventh grade English, students reading The Great Gatsby maintain blogs as characters in the book. In Spanish class, students use Internet-based tool Skype to teleconference with kids in South America. Several teachers have gone so far as to make their classes completely paperless, with all coursework, homework, exams, research, and grading done online.Roland Park also ingrains a modern, international bent to its curriculum. While its students can attend Gilman classes for classical languages like Latin and Greek, RPCS offers courses in vital languages like Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, which draw students from the other schools. Several years ago, students raised money to build a school in Sierra Leone, and each year, students hold fundraisers to maintain it.“We definitely give our students a global edge,” says RPCS communications director Nancy Mugele. “We’re trying to prepare them for the international economy they’ll be a part of.”

Private High Schools Enrollment Student-Teacher Ratio Annual Tuition Graduation Rate % College-Bound %*
Archbishop Curley High 570 11-1 $10,300 96 91
Archbishop Spalding High 1,210 14-1 $11,975 100 100
Arlington Baptist School 50 10-1 $6,100 99 81
Bais Yaakov Eva Weiner High 400 20-1 $8,600 95 90
Baltimore Lutheran School 250 12-1 $10,521 100 98
Beth Tfiloh Community School 287 4-1 $17,200 100 99
Boys Latin School of Baltimore 300 8-1 $21,760 100 99
The Bryn Mawr School 302 7-1 $23,070 100 100
Calvert Hall College High 1,195 12-1 $11,300 100 98
The Catholic High School of Balt. 328 10-1 $9,400 99 98
The Cardin School 57 3-1 $16,950 100 100
Christo Rey Jesuit High 320 11-1 $2,500 N/A N/A
Friends School of Baltimore 404 9-1 $21,675 100 100
Garrison Forest School 278 12-1 $23,350 100 100
Gilman School 460 8-1 $23,290 100 100
Greater Grace Christian Academy 50 15-1 $4,625 100 90
Institute of Notre Dame 323 11-1 $10,500 100 100
Jemicy School 105 4-1 $29,450 100 96
Loyola-Blakefield 737 10-1 $15,360 100 98
Maryvale Preperatory School 286 7-1 $15,150 100 100
McDonough School 580 9-1 $23,370 100 100
Mercy High 400 13-1 $11,125 100 97
Mount de Sales Academy 500 11-1 $9,525 100 100
Mount St. Joseph High 1,025 12-1 $11,300 100 92
Notre Dame Preperatory School 586 9-1 $15,750 100 100
Oldfields School 160 5-1 $26,600 100 100
Park School of Baltimore 323 6-1 $23,990 100 100
Roland Park Country School 292 6-1 $22,850 100 100
Seton Keough High 460 10-1 $10,450 100 100
St. Frances Academy 300 15-1 N/A 100 98
St. James School 185 7-1 $24,000 100 100
St. Paul’s School 354 9-1 $22,520 100 100
St. Paul’s School For Girls 254 6-1 $22,300 100 100
St. Timothy’s School 160 6-1 $25,750 100 100
* Enrollment includes only grades 9-12; Annual Tuition does not include boarding fees; College Bound % includes the percentage of students planning to attend 2-year or 4-year colleges after graduation.

 

*HOW WE GOT THE NUMBERS:
Data for City and County public schools was provided by the school systems and the Maryland State Dept. of Education. Data for private schools was provided by individual schools. Teacher-student ratios for public schools were calculated using total enrollment and total teachers and were not provided directly by the school systems.

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