Centennial is No. 1

February 03, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Even in a county that takes particular pride in how well its students perform on state tests and that touts its top state rankings at every turn, Centennial High School has something to celebrate.

This year, the Ellicott City high school was the first in Maryland to achieve excellent ratings in all categories on the Maryland School Performance Program, the annual report card issued by the State Department of Education.

So the school threw a party Friday afternoon -- featuring a schoolwide assembly, music, a pep rally and ice cream.

"Centennial High School is not only No. 1 in Howard County, we are No. 1 in the state of Maryland as well," Centennial Principal Lynda J. Mitic told the school's cheering students.

As she spoke, a banner unfurled above the school's auditorium stage: "Centennial High School, Excellence in Education, #1 in Maryland."

Centennial held its celebration as Maryland education officials gathered to announce the list of schools being targeted for state takeover because of low student performance. No Howard schools were on that list.

The state's annual report card judges high schools on attendance, dropout rates and the performance of ninth- and 11th-graders on the Maryland Functional Tests.

The tests in reading, math, writing and citizenship -- which all Maryland students are required to pass to receive a high school diploma -- check such elementary skills that Howard and most other school systems start giving the tests to students as early as seventh grade. Once a student passes them, he or she does not have to take them again.

An excellent rating requires a high percentage of students to pass an exam -- more than 99 percent of 11th-graders in each subject. It also calls for schoolwide attendance to be above 96 percent and the school's dropout rate to be below 1.25 percent. A mark of satisfactory has less stringent standards.

Overall, Howard schools achieved satisfactory or excellent ratings in every functional test, attendance and dropout rate category for 1995-1996 -- a standard matched only by Carroll County.

What set Centennial apart was its excellent rating in every area.

The school learned of the ratings in December, but it wasn't until several weeks later -- after the Centennial staff checked with other school systems -- that it discovered that Centennial was the first high school in Maryland to achieve that standard.

"It's really something special, so it was worth taking some time and having a celebration," said guidance counselor David Greenberg, who helped organize what amounted to a surprise party for students.

To be sure, Centennial's staff acknowledges that some of the school's high performance can be attributed to its relatively affluent, stable student enrollment.

Centennial and Glenelg high schools have the lowest percentage of low-income students and the least student turnover in Howard.

Still, being the first in Maryland to achieve all excellent ratings is a big achievement, teachers and students said.

"I think many schools tend to plateau after a while, but this school has continued to push for a higher standard every year," said Sam Leishure, head of the guidance department and a member of Centennial's faculty since it opened in 1977.

At the beginning of the school day, copies of the state's report card for Centennial were posted throughout the building, along with red fliers promoting Centennial's "commitment to excellence" and featuring the school mascot, an eagle.

Students were given copies of the school report card during second period -- and tickets for free ice cream at lunch.

Teachers and other staff wore long-sleeved white shirts that said "Centennial -- Committed to Excellence."

For the last two hours, the school took a break from class to celebrate.

A popular Centennial student band named Iapetus played at the beginning and end of the assembly, and speeches praising the school's academic achievements were interspersed with individual student performances -- including a dance by senior Jessica Lin and songs by seniors Ryan Pierce and Melissa Hodges. A pep rally for the school's sports teams followed.

"It's nice to step back and recognize what we've accomplished," said senior Sara Beck, a member of Iapetus. "It gives us a chance to showcase our academic and artistic talent."

Howard schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey -- with a red Eagles key chain dangling from his neck -- praised the students, staff and parents during the assembly for "an ongoing record of excellence that the school has had."

"Excellence is true of Howard County schools as a whole," Hickey said. "We have been No. 1 in the state for seven years now, which is important to recognize, and it's a record we're not going to give up."

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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