Feature

The Dean's List

The best public high schools along the Front Range. Plus: an in-depth look at how the so-called Colorado Paradox has shortchanged our kids—and how we might finally be able to fix it.

September 2013

TOP PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS

Methodology Schools were evaluated in a one-county radius around Denver, plus Boulder and Douglas,* using the Colorado Growth Model. This assesses schools according to levels of academic proficiency (in math, reading, and writing) and “growth”—i.e., how well schools are helping their students meet or exceed their expected skill levels at each grade. Schools were chosen based on high scores in both categories across all three subject areas. Special consideration was given to schools with higher free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) percentages.
» Format: Proficiency/Growth (on a scale of 1–100) in 2012  
» Note: The Colorado Growth Model was updated for 2013’s data after this article went to press.

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Arapahoe
LITTLETON

    math        reading        writing        frl
    59/60    |    88/58    |    73/62    |    6.74%
   
This Centennial school celebrates 50 years this month as it commits to the integration of 21st-century technology into its classrooms. The school’s Connected Learners program ensures that all students have laptops for use in school and at home.

Boulder
BOULDER VALLEY

    math        reading        writing        frl
    57/61    |    76/44    |    62/49    |    17.38%
Founded in 1875, the oldest public secondary school in Colorado offers 28 Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and more than 40 percent of students enroll in at least one. Boulder High’s nearly 1,800 students also can participate in cultural events and classes at the nearby University of Colorado Boulder. Incoming students take a Freshman Seminar, led by upperclassmen, to help them make the transition.

CEC Middle College of Denver
DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    math        reading        writing        frl
    39/49    |    84/63    |    65/74    |    88.63%
As a magnet school serving a population of students with nearly 90 percent FRL assistance, CEC boasts high growth scores, especially in reading and writing. The school focuses on college preparation in addition to offering a range of career-oriented courses—such as construction trades, exercise and health sciences, welding, law, and digital film production—to help students discover their professional passions. Culinary arts students live up to the school’s credo, “Do Something Real,” by operating a full-service cafe as part of the CEC’s Jefferson Park campus.

Chatfield
JEFFERSON COUNTY

    math        reading        writing        frl
    53/57    |    75/38    |    62/46    |    12.04%
The Chatfield Chargers compete in more varsity sports than any other school in their district and make regular appearances in state championship contests. More than 20 AP courses are offered on the Littleton campus, and the school puts a strong emphasis on community service: Students have raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life since 2007.

Cherry Creek
CHERRY CREEK

    math        reading        writing        frl
    65/61    |    84/53    |    75/57    |    8.75%

“Creek,” as it’s more commonly known, is larger than many colleges, with an enrollment of nearly 3,500 (Colorado’s biggest). The 80-acre, four-building Greenwood Village campus—specifically designed to evoke a university environment to better prepare students for the transition to college—has more than 150 classrooms and hosts about 30 AP subjects, approximately 100 clubs and activities, and 18 sports.

Columbine
JEFFERSON COUNTY

    math        reading        writing        frl
    47/53    |    76/44    |    57/50    |    19.3%
The primary athletic rivals of nearby Chatfield High, the Rebels compete at a high level across 16 sports. In addition to extensive honors and AP classes, Columbine now offers an endorsed International Baccalaureate program. On average, 85 percent of the school’s graduates go on to college.

Conifer
JEFFERSON COUNTY

    math        reading        writing        frl
    53/63    |    85/51    |    70/64    |    12.62%
Conifer High provides a resource-rich learning environment, with a tutoring center available to students both during and after school. The Lobos also have access to a robust library, courtesy of a partnership with the Jefferson County Public Library system. The midsize school has 14 sports and more than 25 clubs and activities.

D’Evelyn
JEFFERSON COUNTY

    math        reading        writing        frl
    88/59    |    97/60    |    88/50    |    6.29%
D’Evelyn Junior/Senior High School (grades 7–12) in southwest Denver prides itself on producing college-ready graduates. It boasts the highest ACT composite scores and the lowest number of students needing college remediation coursework of any public school in the state. The Jaguars’ marching band won the state 2A championship in 2011 and 2012.

Denver School of Science & Technology: Stapleton
DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    math        reading        writing        frl
    74/81    |    88/67    |    67/61    |    43.26%
Since its first group of seniors graduated in 2008, 100 percent of DSST graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges. The popular STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) charter school determines placement into its almost 500 spots through a lottery system. The school’s continued academic success and growth are especially impressive given that more than 43 percent of the student body qualifies for FRL.

Denver School of the Arts
DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    math        reading        writing        frl
    57/61    |    93/55    |    83/54    |    14.46%
This fine arts school in Park Hill, opened in 1991, was an early exploration of the magnet model in Denver. Middle and high school students must audition to join one of 11 majors and are held to rigorous academic standards in addition to their artistic commitments, which include regular, open-to-the-public performances in multiple on-site theaters and a recital hall.

East
DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS
    math        reading        writing        frl
    41/53    |    76/54    |    59/56    |    35.45%
The perennially popular, historic East High School (enrollment: 2,313) in City Park boasts above-average reading and writing proficiency and growth scores along with its many athletic and extracurricular options. East Angels enjoy a variety of nontraditional recreation and club teams (bowling, Ultimate Frisbee, rugby, table tennis), a strong theater and performance arts program, and more than 66 student organizations, including five ethnic studies clubs.

Evergreen
JEFFERSON COUNTY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    70/72    |    90/54    |    75/50    |    10.23%

In addition to strong academic performance—the school has a 99 percent graduation rate—77 percent of Evergreen students participate in the school’s 24 co-curricular or interest clubs, athletics, or both. The Cougars also have a serious commitment to service: 82 percent of the school’s more than 1,000 students perform community volunteer work, and 4.5 percent of graduates join the military.

Fairview
BOULDER VALLEY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    68/55    |    84/44    |    74/40    |    7.28%
Students looking for rigorous, challenging coursework thrive at Boulder’s Fairview, where they can choose from 13 AP subjects and both the full International Baccalaureate diploma and IB certificate pathways. The Knights compete in 5A athletics and enjoy an eclectic variety of clubs and activities (Humans vs. Zombies, Slackline Club, Korean Movie Club) in addition to more traditional offerings. Fairview also boasts eight choirs and more than 10 different bands.

Grandview
CHERRY CREEK
    math        reading        writing        frl
    48/63    |    81/57    |    67/54    |    16.9%
Aurora’s Grandview is known for both its high pass rate for AP exams and for a strong 5A athletics department; in 2008, Sports Illustrated ranked Grandview as the number one sports program in Colorado. A large student population of 2,600—second in the metro area only to Cherry Creek High—supports more than 40 clubs and activities.

Heritage
LITTLETON
    math        reading        writing        frl
    58/62    |    83/51    |    68/51    |    12.83%
Heritage High in Littleton operates on a variable schedule, and students can have “unscheduled time,” or free periods, built into their day—during which they’re encouraged to meet with teachers or counselors, do homework, or visit the school’s 10,000-volume library. The Eagles support a sister school in Sierra Leone.

Highlands Ranch*
DOUGLAS COUNTY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    53/49    |    83/63    |    70/62    |    9.06%
The Falcons compete at high levels across student activities, from award-winning yearbook and newspaper programs to robust performance and fine arts offerings to athletics (they’ve snagged more than 20 state championships since the school opened in 1987). The school’s Post Graduate Center is dedicated to helping seniors through the college application process, including keeping electronic files with students’ letters of recommendation and other documents.

Jefferson Charter Academy
JEFFERSON COUNTY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    56/62    |    90/63    |    74/57    |    14.15%
Jefferson Charter Academy focuses not just on college preparation, but also on grooming students for an eventual workplace by holding them accountable to a code of conduct on the Broomfield campus. For its small size (325 students), the school has an impressive lineup of athletics and fine arts programs, plus 18 different technology courses.

Lakewood
JEFFERSON COUNTY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    50/45    |    72/35    |    58/44    |    29.34%
With a significant percentage of students receiving FRL assistance and 15 percent who have a primary home language other than English, Lakewood High excels at engaging students academically with options such as the International Baccalaureate program, quiz bowl teams that compete at the national level, and an internationally recognized debate team. The Tigers compete in 5A athletics and offer robust arts and media programs and clubs.

Monarch
BOULDER VALLEY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    56/54    |    79/38    |    64/42    |    5.65%
Monarch High in Louisville offers the most CU Succeed classes (courses for juniors and seniors that earn college credit at a reduced tuition rate) in the state. Students can participate in the High School of Business program—a national college-preparatory program for business administration careers. Monarch also leverages one-to-one computer technology, meaning students have a device to carry with them throughout the day, rather than having to visit dedicated computer labs.

Mountain Vista*
DOUGLAS COUNTY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    55/52    |    86/54    |    73/54    |    6.15%
This large (roughly 2,000 students) high school in Highlands Ranch employs more than 90 percent of its faculty in the subject area for which they have their primary degree, and more than 60 percent of teachers boast a master’s degree or higher. Its acclaimed Stage Flight Theatre puts together a full slate of productions every year, and in addition to a highly successful traditional athletics program, Mountain Vista offers Unified basketball and soccer programs for mentally and physically disabled students.

Peak to Peak Charter
BOULDER VALLEY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    59/73    |    94/56    |    37/49    |    7.4%
This K–12 Lafayette charter, a U.S. News & World Report top 50 high school in 2007, focuses on a liberal arts education and college preparation. Its enrollment of almost 600 students ensures ample athletics and activities offerings, including cross country and soccer and Model U.N. and science clubs.

Ralston Valley
JEFFERSON COUNTY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    68/75    |    87/60    |    73/57    |    8.42%

Students at this Arvada school, which opened in 2000, enjoy modern facilities throughout its 50-plus-acre campus, with amenities like state-of-the-art science labs and interactive whiteboards in classrooms. The Mustangs pride themselves on fostering a safe, inclusive, and positive learning environment for the school’s more than 1,500 pupils.

Rock Canyon*
DOUGLAS COUNTY
    math        reading        writing        frl
    55/43    |    87/53    |    72/48    |    2.45%
Just about a decade old, Rock Canyon keeps students—from Littleton to Castle Rock—busy with both activities and athletics (more than 85 percent participate in a club or sport) and challenging coursework (the school's AP pass rate on the 24 courses it offers is higher than the national and state averages). The school sends nearly 90 percent of graduates on to college and has received recognition at the state and national level for community service projects.

*Due to an oversight, the Douglas County School District was not included in our rankings in the print edition this year. Three DCSD schools more than met the criteria for inclusion on our list of Denver metro’s top public high schools and join the list here. We regret the omission.

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