LHS near the top of ‘Best Kansas High Schools’ list by national magazine
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Number seven in the state is not too shabby. This year, though, Liberal High School moved up to the second spot in Kansas high schools, as ranked by the prestigious “U.S. News & World Report” listing released Tuesday.
“I was just ecstatic,” said LHS principal Keith Adams. “When we got number seven last year, that was pretty good; we were pleased to be in the top 10. To go up to number two — I knew we had it in us.”
Adams credited the teachers, instructional coaches, fellow administrators, counselors and the students themselves for earning such high marks from outside evaluators.
“As soon as I got the email, I sent it out staff-wide,” he said. “I’m sure the students are getting the information. It felt good to be able to send such a positive message out. It’s validation of the hard work everyone’s been doing.”
Superintendent of Schools Paul Larkin, too, acknowledged the enormity of the honor particularly in light of the hard path the school traveled over the past decade. Eight years ago, LHS teetered on the federal government’s list of failing schools, in danger of being managed by federal, rather than local leadership. Under the leadership of Adams, the school board adopted new policies and programs including more AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination — to encourage middle-of-the-road students to prepare for college, and an increased offering of Advanced Placement classes.
“We received a grant a few years ago to encourage more underrepresented students to have access to AP,” Adams said. The grant provided funding for training, supplies, equipment and helped the district send teachers to training.
“At the same time, our AVID courses were expanding, and AVID encourages all students to take more rigorous classes,” Adams recalled. “It was kind of the perfect storm, the culmination of those two things coming together that helped us make this astronomical shift.”
Over a seven-year time period, the school went from offering four AP classes to its current 12, with 25 sections or classrooms in all. Student participation blossomed.
“In 2005-06, we had 32 students enrolled in AP classes. Last year, it was 246,” Adams said. “In that same time period, we started with 37 AP exams (in 2005-06). Last year, students took 396.”
Today, more than half the students enrolled at LHS take at least one AP class before graduation. Larkin said AP participation plays a key role in the US News rankings.
“That’s seen as an indication of high standards,” he said. “It’s a more rigorous curriculum, it’s above general studies, and Mr. Adams and his staff and the school board have taken a serious approach to offering those classes.”
As the district seeks to offer students more opportunities for excellence, it has done the same for instructors, added Deputy Superintendent of School Renae Hickert.
“I would have loved to have had the training and staff development our teachers get now,” she said. “They’re so much better prepared. It plays a huge part in how the students at the high school learn, and it reflects well on the district.”
That’s especially encouraging as USD 480 officials wrap up recruiting and interviews for instructional and administrative positions for the 2014-15 school year.
“If you talk to our human resources director Jason McAfee, getting those rankings raises eyebrows,” Larkin said. “People pay attention, and it assists in recruiting.”
With a successful bond issue taking form and the end of the year just around the corner, Hickert and Larkin said the U.S. News ranking adds the perfect finishing touch to the academic year.
“We’re coming into our scholarship awards banquet, the baccalaureate service, graduation … this is just another feather in the cap for the district,” Larkin said. “It shows all the hard work everybody has been putting in is paying off.”