North Central High School (NCHS) received major accolades last week, taking a bronze award in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 ranking of the best high schools in the nation. NCHS Principal Worth Thomasson described his response to finding out his school had received the honor as being one of “excitement.”
“It was a nice surprise,” Thomasson said. “Knowing that the national press would find North Central and recognize us, it’s such an honor.”
When asked what specifically about his school helped garner national attention, Thomasson discussed three key aspects.
“Great teaching, a big focus on individual student needs and a strong faculty/student community relationship,” Thomasson said, smiling. “We also call that teamwork.”
When it comes to great teaching at NCHS, Thomasson said his staff has high expectations for students.
“They get the kids excited about learning and motivate them. They make school as fun as possible and continually assess and reflect on their work,” Thomasson said.
A specific example of this teaching process in action exists with NCHS Teacher of the Year Brooke Bradshaw. Bradshaw teaches sports medicine and is the sports medicine specialists for the school’s athletes. On a typical day in Bradshaw’s class, a visitor can find her leading students in a lab on spine vertebrae where they use fruit roll-ups and Play-Doh to recreate the bones and muscles of the spine.
“It’s hands on and active. The students learn better this way and it keeps them on task,” Bradshaw said, explaining that her class learns the anatomy lesson first. “Then we get to do activities that reinforce the lesson.”
“This is a perfect example of how our teachers get our students excited about learning,” Thomasson said.
Thomasson said NCHS has various ways of addressing individual students’ needs.
“We have a strong focus on literacy here. For the last four years, we’ve been implementing a Reading Across the Curriculum program as well as a Writing Across the Curriculum program,” he said.
What that means is that every class has at least one book, in addition to the assigned text, that students are required to read and discuss as part of the course. They are also required to write at least one paper as part of the course.
“This is for all courses,” Thomasson emphasized. “Even weightlifting!”
The literacy-geared tactic has had noticeable results, he said.
“Our ELA and EOC scores have improved. History was determined to be our area of greatest weakness so we pushed to increase reading comprehension. Since implementing these programs, we’ve had a 16 percent gain (in history scores),” Thomasson said.
Another way the school strives to help all students succeed is by offering tutoring and extra help during the school day. Thomasson said this is especially beneficial for students who live further away from the school and wouldn’t be able to stay after for such options.
“Our guidance counselor, Amy Jenkins, manages a study hall for an hour out of the day so students can get help on their homework if they need it. I don’t think you see that at a lot of places,” Thomasson said.
Finally, he said, NCHS strives to create a strong, positive relationship among faculty and the student community. Thomasson said he personally takes great pride in seeing this.
“Every year when our ninth grade class enters, we pick out a group of upperclassmen to be their mentors throughout the year. We do this for every freshman orientation. The (older) students lead all the lessons themselves. They show the freshmen how to manage their time and talk about personal lessons,” he said.
Pairing freshmen students with older students is a good way to make them feel comfortable and at ease immediately, Thomasson noted. He described how NCHS Assistant Principal Rose Montgomery designed a club to help students understand what bullying is and how to stand up against it.
“They’re called the Noble Knights,” he said. “Also, February we have a month-long bullying intervention program. We’ve seen a real change for the positive (in this area.)”
Thomasson praised his staff extensively and noted that NCHS has been blessed to also have exceptional extra-curricular and athletic programs.
“Louis Clyburn is our athletic director and he does a fantastic job. Academics have a close connection to athletics and extra-curricular activities,” Thomasson said. “A student who struggles in the classroom may find a way to express themselves with sports or in a club. That gives the students even more desire to stay in school and to do well.”
At NCHS, every student can find a way to shine, Thomasson explained, whether it’s with art, band, drama, agriculture, hospitality and tourism or with sports.
“Our kids are happy and our teachers are so proud,” he said.
Thomasson noted that he was very pleased to receive national recognition, but that he was already aware of how well NCHS was doing. Two weeks ago, the school was one of only 65 in the state to receive a Palmetto Gold Award for both student performance and for closing the achievement gap. S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais gave them the title of “superstar” in recognition of the achievement.