"You would think that people would know about us by now," Brancato said. "But I always run into people who still don't know."
High Tech High, based in North Bergen, is part of the public Hudson County Schools of Technology, a group of competitive county public schools. High Tech High specifically was founded in 1991 to provide Hudson County residents with a public education in a technology-based environment.
Well, after High Tech received its latest honor recently - this one coming from a nationwide report - perhaps others in the area will stand up and take notice of the school's litany of achievements.
Last week, the highly-respected national magazine U.S. News & World Report, in association with the School Evaluation Services, awarded High Tech a Silver Medal, meaning it placed among the top five percent of all high schools in the country and among the top 500 of more than 19,000 schools surveyed.
The magazine honored High Tech for its college readiness index and the overall academic achievement in the past year.
"We were absolutely thrilled," Brancato said. "Not only to be in the top 500 in the entire country, but to be recognized for all the achievements the school has. It's really amazing, when you consider the huge pool of schools in the report. This is a national recognition and it's one to be very proud of."
High Tech received the Silver Medal because of three factors.
"It pertained to the student body coming from a disadvantaged population," Brancato said. "They also took what is called an 'at-risk' population into the equation as well. The third indication was the level of college readiness in terms of taking AP [Advanced Placement] classes and doing well on the AP exams."
Students who take AP classes in the school weighed only 75 percent of the total calculation, with 25 percent placed on the completion rate of the AP classes.
U.S. News & World Report determines its "Best High Schools" list according to the system of principles and rules that School Evaluation Services developed. The report and SES compile the data on their own, so High Tech officials had no idea that the school was even under consideration.
School Evaluation Services, which is run by Standard & Poor's, the international service provider of investment research, risk evaluation, independent credit ratings, indexes, data and valuations, compiles the report to show that excellent high schools should serve the entire student body without special privileges bestowed upon those seeking a college education.
"It's not something we applied for or sent data to," Brancato said. "It was just our basic school report card information that we submit annually to the state. It all came from how well our school did compared to the state average."
Additionally, School Evaluation Services lives by the principle that every high school should produce measurable academic results that show a high school's success across the board.
"The way it's defined as providing a level of college readiness," Brancato said.
The entire report can be found online at www.schoolmatters.com and lists all the schools recognized in the U.S. News & World Report's "Best High Schools of 2008."
School Evaluation Services developed a three-step process to pick the best high schools in the nation.
The first step involves statistics that measure reading and math results on each state's mandatory test, factoring in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students at the school, to isolate the schools performing better than statistical expectations.
The second step records whether a school's least-advantaged students perform better than average for demographically identical students in the state.
The final step uses Advanced Placement data as the benchmark for "college readiness" based on the weighted average of AP participation rate (number of seniors who take one or more AP test before or during senior year divided by number of seniors) and the amount of seniors who received a score of 3 or higher on at least one AP test before or during their senior year, divided by the amount of seniors at the school.
"It is pretty remarkable," Brancato said. "It's a school-wide recognition. I think this validates our students and our staff. Everyone gets a piece of it. It's a grander celebration when the entire school is involved."
In the past, High Tech has been honored for its different departments, like its theatrical/performing arts department, its television/radio production department and its science department.
Now, thanks to U.S. News and World Report, this is one for all to share.
And perhaps make people fully realize the type of academic excellence that takes place at High Tech.
"Next year, maybe we can try to become a gold medal school [one of the top 250 in the country]," Brancato said. "It gives us something to shoot for. We have to find another way to demonstrate the excellent education our students receive."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org