For the second year in a row, the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) has been ranked #1 among the “Best School Districts in Maryland” by Niche.com, a national education and community analysis firm. This recognition is a tribute to our students, educators and all stakeholders who support our schools.
Great schools do not happen by accident. They are the result of a community that values education and actively participates in the process of continuous improvement. I am convinced that we can go even further by working together to prepare our students for the careers of their choice and for THEIR future.
In 2012, I was fortunate to become the Superintendent of Schools in Howard County. It was truly an honor to become the first woman to lead this outstanding school system. Shortly after I arrived, we developed Vision 2018: Fulfilling the Promise of Preparation, and I am pleased to see that students are fulfilling the full promise of their potential in Howard County Public Schools, according to several important measures.
Our work will never be complete, but Howard County students continue to achieve at the highest levels in Maryland and are making their marks on our nation and the world. Members of the Class of 2016 are currently enrolled in every Ivy League college and at top-tier schools throughout the nation. HCPSS graduates include the founders of Oculus Rift and Reddit, news anchors at CNN and ESPN, CEO of the LiveStrong Foundation, best selling authors, a Pulitzer Prize winner, astronaut, laser surgery inventor, and state and county officials, as well as business leaders, noted scientists, and countless other top achievers in virtually every industry.
Each year the promise of preparation has grown even brighter for our students. At nearly 93 percent, graduation rates have risen more than 3.6 percentage points since 2012, and are more than 6 percentage points higher than the Maryland average. Some student groups show even greater progress: the percentage of our African-American and Hispanic students graduating has risen 4.3 and 6.2 points respectively in that same period.
Since 2012, our high school Gifted and Talented (GT) enrollment has increased more than 50 percent, and now nearly two-thirds of our students now take at least one of these challenging courses. GT participation in middle school has risen from 43 percent to 55 percent over the same period, and is up from 43 to 50 percent in elementary school.
HCPSS also was recently recognized as the only Maryland public school system named to the College Board’s 7th Annual AP District Honor Roll. The College Board recognizes districts that have opened AP classroom doors to a significantly broader pool of students, while maintaining or improving the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher. More HCPSS students are taking Advanced Placement courses and performing well, especially among our African-American students, for whom participation has grown more than 10 percentage points over the last five years — the most significant increase among any student group.
For the first time this school year, the State of Maryland requires all school districts to evaluate the level of college and career readiness for each student. I can proudly attest that HCPSS offers a wide variety of college and career preparation programs. Career and technical education academies offer students opportunities to learn marketable skills, gain valuable experience and earn employment credentials with eight Career Academies available in each high school and 12 academies at the Applications and Research Laboratory.
Last year, 6,375 students were enrolled in Career Academy courses, an increase of 1,011 students since 2012. These students graduate prepared to pursue postsecondary education and some will move directly from school to work.
College enrollment for HCPSS graduates has steadily improved. The proportion entering college immediately after high school has notably increased, from an average of 76.7 percent in 2012 to 80.9 percent last year. It’s especially promising that more of the most economically disadvantaged students are attending college. The gap in enrollment between students who receive free and reduced price meal (FARM) services and their non-FARM peers has narrowed significantly over the last seven years, from a 29.4 percentage point gap in 2008 to a 23.5 percentage point gap in 2015.
These gains are the product of the years of hard work, commitment and partnership among our students, educators, parents and a supportive community. Howard County has many good reasons to take great pride in its schools and expect a bright future.