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West Hartford’s Conard and Hall High Schools Earn ‘Gold Medal’ Distinction from U.S. News

Both West Hartford high schools were ranked in the top 15 in the state, and in the top 500 nationally in the 2018 U.S. News & World Report ranking of more than 20,500 public high schools.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s two public high schools – Conard High School and Hall High School – continue their legacy of earning top rankings in the state as well as nationally in the U.S. News & World Report 2018 list of the nation’s best high schools released Wednesday.

The rankings were a near tie for the schools.

Hall earned a no. 11 ranking in Connecticut, behind a list of schools that included five magnet/charter schools as well as five schools in Fairfield County. Conard earned the no. 12 spot.

In the national rankings, Hall was no. 443 and Conard was right behind, at no. 444. The West Hartford schools both earned “gold medal” distinction, awarded to the top 500 schools in the country. Only 15 Connecticut schools were on the gold medal list.

“All good news – it’s so exciting,” West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Wednesday morning.

“This makes them basically twins in the ranking,” said a very pleased Moore. “How neat is it that they’re right next to each other nationally.”

Last year Conard was ranked no. 6 in the state and no. 450 nationally, while Hall was left off the list because too few students at the school had taken the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) to meet the criteria for consideration. Data from the 2014-2015 academic year was used for the 2017 ranking, and the 2018 ranking uses data from the 2015-16 academic year.

Both Conard and Hall earned a 60.6 on the “College Readiness” index, which is a major factor in determining the rankings. Conard’s College Readiness index last year was 58.1 percent.

At Hall, 72 percent of students took Advanced Placement (AP) exams, with 79 percent achieving a passing grade. Sixty-one percent of students demonstrated mathematics proficiency on statewide testing (which is now the School Day SAT), while 82 percent achieved reading proficiency. The results noted that there were 1,463 students enrolled at Hall, 36 percent of whom were “minority” and 17 percent of whom were classified as “economically disadvantaged.” For more in depth details about Hall’s profile and rankings, click here.

Conard had an AP participation rate of 74 percent and a passing rate of 76 percent. On the School Day SAT, 55 percent achieved mathematics proficiency and 76 percent achieved reading proficiency. Conard’s enrollment was 1,540, with 44 percent “minority” and 24 percent “economically disadvantaged.” For more in depth details about Conard’s profile and ranking, click here.

“When you take away the magnet and charter schools, and the schools with entrance exams, both Conard and Hall are in the top 100,” Moore said. It’s even more remarkable, he said, when you look at the demographics of the West Hartford schools, which “look like the country” in terms of the population’s racial and economic diversity.

“We are always proud of our rank,” Conard Principal Julio Duarte said. He echoed Moore’s words about how Conard, as a diverse public school that “mirrors the United States” has been such a consistent success. “Look at the schools above us, if you really dive into their profiles, it makes us so proud.”

Conard’s success is a testament to the hard work of the teachers as well as the students, Duarte said. And he’s proud that both Conard and Hall have received virtually identical rankings.

“Since Dan [Zittoun, the Hall principal] and I have been principals – we were named at the same time – we’ve done a lot of work together. We have created a lot of collaboration and it’s not surprising that we are in the rankings together,” said Duarte. The two speak nearly every day, he said.

“When I see this, for me it’s such a validation for Hall High School, for the students and faculty, for West Hartford Public Schools,” Hall Principal Dan Zittoun said. “It’s a testament to us but really it should be the elementary and middle schools that lay the foundation that should get the credit. We get to bear the fruit.”

Zittoun said it’s an outstanding feeling to see both Hall and Conard receive such high ratings, and like Duarte he noted the collaboration that has taken place since both have been principals.

“We have the playful competition, but one element in our success is that Julio and I established a collaborative relationship,” said Zittoun. “We take the best of both schools.”

Amistad Academy, a charter school in New Haven, was once again Connecticut’s top-ranked school, followed by Connecticut IB Academy, Achievement First Hartford Academy, Academy of Aerospace and Engineering in Windsor, Ridgefield High School, Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern (Groton), Greenwich High School, Staples High School (Westport), Darien High School, and Wilton High School were listed as the top 10 in the state.

In addition to Hall and Conard, Weston, Simsbury, New Canaan, Joel Barlow (Redding/Regional District no. 9), Faifield Ludlowe, Newtown, Granby Memorial, and Farmington high schools rounded out the top 20 in the state.

Among the comprehensive high schools on the list of the state’s top schools, Conard and Hall stand out as models, Moore said. School officials from out of town (Vermont, New York, Massachusetts) continue to visit to see how West Hartford continues to achieve at such a high level.

“I’m so pleased that we get the recognition we get and that the kids have earned,” Moore said.

What the administration did years ago, opening up challenging courses to any student who wanted the opportunity, has clearly been successful. “That idea is catching on,” Moore said, with changes nationally in philosophy about who should be able to take the most challenging classes.

According to U.S. News & World Report, this year’s ranking was based on data reviewed from nearly 29,000 public schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. using methodology established by North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm.

The rankings are calculated using a four-step process, and the total number of schools that qualified for review (some were too small) was 20,548. Schools needed to achieve a graduation rate of at least 80 percent (increased from the 75 percent threshold used in 2017) to move on to the final step.

 “The first three steps ensured that the schools serve all of their students well, using their performance on the math and reading parts of their state proficiency tests and their graduation rates as the benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first three steps, a fourth step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work,” according to U.S. News & World Report.

BASIS School in Scottsdale, AZ, a charter school, was ranked no. 1 nationally.

To read the full U.S. News & World Report ranking report, click here.

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