'U.S. News' recognition sheds national light on H-LP academics

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
H-LP students (clockwise from left) junior Katria Guenzel, sophomore Connor Grussing, freshman Kade Heikens, senior Lee Vellema, senior Jena Peters and junior Samantha Brueggeman recently sat down to discuss the ways they think their H-LP schooling deserved its recent national attention. (Photo by Andrea Kemp/DCN Staff)

Harris-Lake Park High School received national kudos when "U.S. News and World Reports" recognized it as "one of American's Best High Schools" this past December.

Sophomore Connor Grussing didn't need a magazine to tell him that.

"The statistics of the grades that are seen here at Harris Lake Park are pretty good," Grussing said. "We're very smart - on paper as well as individually and personally, all of the students here are pretty academically smart. We're good people."

According the H-LP Superintendent Dennis Peters, the district didn't apply for the honor, but rather the magazine recognition came out of evaluation of academic statistics.

"They gather the data on student achievement and they look for high schools that are doing better than expected," Peters said. "It was for student achievement being above the state average, and our lower socio-economic students doing better than the state average."

Both staff and students at H-LP know their strong academic structure starts at the ground level.

"Starting in kindergarten, the teaching methods really, they were successful," Grussing said. "We could learn to read, the next year we'd move up a level ... Everything we know today is based on the foundation of what we started with in kindergarten and first grade."

Peters points out one area stressed from the beginning of an H-LP student's schooling is literacy.

"In our elementary, reading is really a strength and reading is tied into all the other academic areas," he said. "If you look at our elementary achievement scores, they're pretty high as far as percent of our students who are proficient."

Another constant throughout the district is a dedicated staff, a characteristic not missed by students or Peters.

"I think good schools have good teachers ... and our teachers take a lot of pride in our students doing well and they make sure that kids that are behind get caught up and kids that need extra help get caught up," Peters said.

Grussing appreciates the way H-LP educators mix things up in the classroom.

"We do have a variety of teachers here, and a variety of teaching styles," Grussing said. "Most of them are very fun and energetic and they do a good job. They keep on track with the contents, but they make it exciting to be in class. It's not depressing to go to school.

Outside the walls of H-LP, Peters sees a community dedicated to academic achievement, as well, and points to the support that allowed for the construction of a combined middle and elementary school just five years ago.

"I think the community here really supports education," Peters said. "Not many communities our size would be willing to step outside and build a building like this, unless they were committed to education."

H-LP's academic strengths show through even after students clean out their lockers and accept their diplomas senior year.

"A couple of years ago we were recognized, I think our students had the highest GPA of any high school in the regents schools - Iowa State, Iowa and UNI," Peters said. "So we feel like we do a good job of preparing students for post-secondary. The last two years we've had 100 percent of our students either go to post-secondary or into the military; we haven't had any dropouts for two or three years."

As junior Samantha Brueggeman sets her sights on her own collegiate career, she is comforted by the confidence of fellow alumns.

"When we have some of the college students come in from previous years who have been here, they say their math courses in college, they know how to do them... and they feel well-prepared," Brueggeman said.

H-LP students hope the "U.S. News" recognition will help show the benefits of learning in a smaller setting.

"We are a really good school and we're growing," Brueggeman said. "Anything from academics to sports to speech - all that fun stuff, you can learn in a small environment. Instead of going where there's 100 kids in classes, you might not be able to play sports and all that. Here you get leadership skills and all that."

Peters notes the recognition needs to go out to the entire staff that continues to strive for the school's success.

"I just think its good to be recognized for your hard work," Peters said. "And we do have a staff that takes a lot of pride and works hard at being the best they can be and making this a good school system. I think its more a pat on the back more than anything."

About the award

*21,786 high schools were evaluated on student test performance and college readiness.

* H-LP was one of 1,750 high schools recognized by "U.S. News and World Report" and one of "America's Best High Schools" for "considerably outperforming their state standards for student achievement."

* H-LP was awarded a bronze medal for "students performing better than statistically expected on achievement tests in reading and math."

H-LP by the numbers

students served Pre-K-12: 345

pre-K-fifth grade: 191

sixth-eighth - 63

ninth-twelfth - 91

Information courtesy of Harris-Lake Park schools.

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