'Nobel Prize of high schools' Howard County: Westinghouse finalists show strength in schools often undervalued.

January 30, 1998

FAMILIES LOOKING to relocate to a new community are probably fooling themselves if they think a neighborhood school's standardized test scores predetermine a child's academic success or failure.

Rightly or wrongly, Howard County public schools have earned a reputation as Maryland's top system. The caste system is at work within Howard, too. Many regard Centennial High as the county's premier secondary school because of its lofty SAT scores, a history of motivated students and parents, and excellent instruction. Now there's a buzz about 2-year-old River Hill High. But enrolling a child at those schools does not guarantee academic success. Conversely, sending him to less-touted schools, at least in Howard County, by no means suggests she or he will not achieve.

Look no further for proof than the recent Westinghouse Science Talent Search. The two 17-year-old finalists for the "Nobel Prize for high school students," as one of them dubbed the competition, attend Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake high schools.

Families will not often hear those schools mentioned in the same breath with Centennial when inquiring about academic environments where their offspring can excel. But principals Marshall Peterson at Oakland Mills and Roger Plunkett at Wilde Lake know better.

Their programs in science and gifted-and-talented education helped to produce winning Westinghouse submissions by Oakland Mills' Josh Greene and Wilde Lake's Sabyasachi Guharay, bringing pride to their schools, the county and state. Raymond Cheong of Wilde Lake was a semifinalist.

Two other Maryland finalists are Montgomery County students David Wildstrom and Kirk Doran. All four will attend an expenses-paid institute in Washington in March, and will receive at least $1,000; the winner receives $40,000.

Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills have enjoyed success in other academic competitions, such as the National Merit Scholarship program and WJZ-TV's "It's Academic." Principals will tell you all high schools in Howard are comparable in some ways. Not everyone believes that, but the academic stardom these students are achieving should help to reverse some deeply rooted perceptions.

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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