Oak Mountain, Spain Park among nation’s top 500 high schools

Published 2:03 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

Both Oak Mountain High School and Spain Park High School were included when Newsweek released its list of the best high schools in America.

This year, the number of schools on the list dropped from 1,600 to 500. That didn’t matter, however, as both schools jumped more than 500 places.

Oak Mountain came in at No. 378 this year, up from No. 935 last year. Spain Park is ranked No. 341 on the list, up from No. 984 last year.

Oak Mountain principal Joan Doyle said her school’s huge jump came in large part because of increased Advanced Placement offerings.

“(Part of the ranking) is based on how many AP tests are given, so any time you expand your offerings you’re going to expand how many AP tests are given,” she said.

The school added AP French, Latin and Spanish classes, and plan to add an AP English Language course for the 11th grade next year.

Doyle said the other Oak Mountain schools deserve much credit for preparing kids to be AP students in high school.

“As always, I have to give credit to our other community schools, our elementary intermediate and middle schools,” she said. “Students don’t just magically appear ready to take an AP class, so it takes a lot of work to get them ready. It’s a community effort.”

She said she considers it a school goal to be on the Newsweek list yearly.

“That is certainly something that we consider as we put together the offerings for our students,” she said. “It’s a good goal. It’s something good to strive for.”

Spain Park principal Chris Shaw said his school’s jump is due in part to more students taking AP classes and tests. Parents are encouraging students to take AP courses so they can get college credits early, he said.

“It can save them a lot of money when they go off to college because they can knock out three or four courses,” he said.

Shaw said his school’s success is a “team effort” among parents, teachers and administrators. He also said his school’s inclusion on the Newsweek list helps him make sure Spain Park is keeping up with other elite high schools.

“It’s a good measuring point to see where we stack up with high schools not only in the state of Alabama but across the southeast and across the country.”

Other Birmingham-area schools to make the list include the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School at No. 6, Vestavia Hills High School at No. 195 and Homewood High School at No. 321.