U.S. News and World Report shows CHS ranks in the top 25 schools in the state

Back-to-school sales tax holiday eases financial burden (Tribune file photo) 

CULLMAN, Ala. – The nation’s secondary schools received their annual report cards from U.S. News and World Report this week and several Cullman area school teachers, administrators and students have cause to celebrate.

Cullman High School, despite its 2020 local spending per student of $2,619 compared to larger schools’ spending such as Spain Park High School’s $4,358, remained a strong hold in the state’s top 25 schools with a ranking of 18.

Cullman High School principal and alumni Kim Hall shared her reaction with Cullman’s repeat appearance on the list, saying, “It is an honor to be recognized among U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best High Schools in America.  This recognition is a testament to the perseverance and dedication of the teachers and students at Cullman High School. 2020-2021 was a challenging year as our faculty and students overcame the many obstacles presented through the pandemic. This recognition further validates Cullman High School’s continued commitment to excellence. Go Bearcats!”

The yearly rankings score based on six factors: College Readiness 30%, State Assessment Proficiency 20%, State Assessment Performance 20%, Underserved Student Performance 10%, College Curriculum Breadth 10% and Graduation Rate 10%.

Of note, since many schools waived state testing for the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID pandemic, the rankings relied on previous years’ scores for those areas.

West Point High School ranked 48 in the state. With a graduation rate of 96% and a college readiness score of 30.6 among its 532 students, the Warriors were the top-ranking school in the county school system and the only one in the top 50.

In response, Cullman County Board of Education Superintendent Shane Barnette shared, “There are constantly lists being created by different organizations that rank schools. Just recently we had Vinemont Elementary Schools reported on a list of “High-flying” schools in Alabama. They were the only school in our vicinity that made the list.  That list was created by AL.com researchers and it was based on students from high poverty areas achieving high test scores.”

The High Flyer School award program was developed in late 2021 by state journalists who cover the Alabama public school systems. Vinemont Elementary School, selected as one of 43 Alabama High Flyer Schools, reported a student poverty level of 52.1%, English language arts proficiency of 58.1%, math proficiency of 28.6% and per student local expenditure of $793. Vinemont Elementary was the only school in the county to meet the standards set by the Alabama reporters.

Barnette continued, “I am proud of all the schools that made the US News Report Best High Schools list, but this list was weighted heavily based on the number of AP (advanced placement) courses that the schools offer. While we do have some schools that offer some AP courses that has not been our district’s overall focus. We have concentrated more on dual enrollment course offerings through our partnership with Wallace State Community College. After a student completes an AP course, they still have to pay to take the AP exam and pass the exam to earn college credit. The percentage of students that pass the AP exams across the state is very low.”

The AP exams offers high school students the opportunity to receive college credit and placement based on scoring. The exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 considered “extremely well qualified” and 1 having “no recommendation.” Individual post-secondary institutions determine what scores it allows for placement.  

Barnette shared what the county school system offers instead. “With our partnership with Wallace State, every high school in our district offers multiple college courses in which the students earn college credit once they complete the course. Many of our students will be graduating from Wallace State with an associate’s degree a week before they graduate high school. I would be interested in seeing a list of schools or districts that have the most high school students graduating with a college course under their belt. This year, every 9th-grade student in our district took a college orientation class through Wallace State. Research says that every student that successfully completes one college course is 80% more likely to take another college course. Our goal in Cullman County Schools is for all of our students to graduate with a career-ready credential and one successful college course under their belt. We want our graduates to have the confidence and tools to either continue their education or enter the workforce…or maybe both. There are not very many lists for schools or districts that graduate well-rounded students prepared for life.”

Fairview High School was recognized as 69th in the state with Vinemont High School at 173rd in the list. To the west, Good Hope High School ranked at 182, Hanceville High School at 213 and Cold Springs High School at 224. Right behind was Holly Pond High School at 247.