Too many times, when a high school makes front-page news, it’s for some ignominious reason: a shooting, some structural danger or a sexual assault. Washington High School has made the front page of this newspaper several times lately, but for quite different – and admirable – reasons.
Its football team achieved an undefeated regular season and made it through the playoffs to the WPIAL Class AA championship game at Heinz Field, where the Little Prexies fell to perennial powerhouse Aliquippa. And Shai McKenzie, Wash High’s sensational junior running back, came within a few yards of becoming Western Pennsylvania’s all-time, single-season rushing leader.
Tuesday’s front page featured the school again, but this time for academic achievement. Students in 11th grade had a 19.2 percent increase in math test results from those recorded when they were in eighth grade. On the reading side, their scores increased 9.2 percent. The results were much higher than any other school in Washington or Greene County, and much better than the state average, which showed decreases of 11.3 percent for math and 12.7 percent for reading.
Granted, test scores four years ago were disturbingly low, but the turnaround has been dramatic. Wash High administrators credit scheduling changes that added 50 minutes more each day of instruction time and the addition of literature reading labs for ninth-graders. Also, volunteer groups like the VISTA students from Washington & Jefferson College are helping with after-school tutoring, as are National Honor Society students and teachers.
Washington School District has a declining tax base, and an unusually high number of special education students and those from low-income families – challenges that many other districts do not face. Yet, it manages to produce more than its share of high performers in sports, academics and the arts.
We hear very little other than complaints about the quality of public education theses days, but sometimes, and in some places, some things are done right, and Wash High, apparently, is one of those places.