Ponderosa, Chap among Newsweek's 'best high schools'

Six Douglas County facilities rank among top 30 in state

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Ponderosa High School Principal Chuck Puga waited four years to see his school’s name on Newsweek’s annual America’s Best High Schools list. His patience finally was rewarded.

“I was ecstatic,” Puga said. “I’ve been applying for the last four years, trying to get us on that list. You’re always proud of the other schools, but when you don’t see your name on there, there’ a little bit of a letdown. This year, we finally made it and we’re really excited about it.”

Ponderosa and five other Douglas County School District high schools are listed among the top 40 in Colorado, according to Newsweek’s 2013 ranking. All nine of Douglas County’s traditional high schools made Newsweek's national list of the 2,000 best high schools.

Puga attributes Ponderosa’s appearance on the list to steadily improving student performance. Newsweek based its conclusions on 2011-12 data, and indicators including graduation rates, participation in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, and acceptance into a two- or four-year college program.

“This is because of our outstanding students, excellent teaching staff and supportive community,” Puga said. “The bottom line is, it’s really reflective on the great job we do working together for our students.

“I think a lot of it’s just the number of kids we have that are taking (Advanced Placement) tests, and scoring very highly on those. Our ACT and SAT scores, those have helped, and the number of our kids going off to colleges and universities.”

In order of their ranking on the state list, the six include Rock Canyon, ThunderRidge, Douglas County, Chaparral, Ponderosa and Highlands Ranch high schools.

Their presence on the list is in contrast to U.S. News & World Report’s recently released ranking of best high schools, on which no Douglas County high school appeared.

Douglas County School Board President John Carson was not surprised by the news.

“It reaffirmed my belief that we’ve got really some of the best schools in the state of Colorado, and the best teachers in the state of Colorado,” he said. “I think that we continue to see evidence of that when people look at the subjective, measurable criteria out there.

“I think it certainly reflects we’re doing a good job of preparing kids for college and career success, and that they’re motivated to take a lot more challenging courses while they’re in school. Kids are coming out of school prepared to lead and succeed in life.”

Local school officials believe statistics related to low-income and minority students shifted them off the U.S. News’ list. Douglas County high schools have made frequent appearances on both lists over the years.

“In our view, (Newsweek’s) six criteria are good, solid, objective criteria you can use to measure results,” Carson said.

Douglas County also has night, online and alternative high schools.

Newsweek invites schools to self-report information it considers in its ranking. More than 5,000 public high schools were invited to submit data for the 2013 list; nearly 2,500 responded.