Arlington Citizen-Journal

Excellence is the standard at highly ranked Arlington high school

The nearly 400 students walking the halls at Uplift Summit International Preparatory High School aren’t known as students. Instead, they’re called “scholars.” That encouraging designation seems fitting, given the kind of numbers the Arlington charter school has been putting up lately

Summit International, a public high school that has a 100 percent college acceptance rate for graduates, was recently ranked 22 nationally in U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best High Schools, which includes data from 21,000 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia. It was No. 4 in Texas.

The U.S. News honor came in April, the same month that Summit International landed at No. 30 on The Washington’s Post’s list of America’s Most Challenging High Schools. In that list, schools are given a score based on the number of college-level tests, such as Advanced Placement tests, completed by their seniors. The newspaper also notes the number of economically disadvantaged students, or those who qualify for free and reduced-rate lunches. At Summit International, that was 71 percent of students in 2015.

All those glowing reviews lead to the inevitable question: What’s the secret to Summit International’s success? Students at the small high school say it’s simple — hard work and high standards, with an environment that encourages personal responsibility.

“It is definitely stressful at times because it is so difficult,” said Keilan Lewis, 17. But, he said, faculty members and other school personnel are “there and really willing to help you and to give you the assistance you need. So those two things work in combination to reach those higher standards.

Uplift Summit International Preparatory, a campus that serves K-12 students, is nestled on Center Street, near AT&T Stadium. Students are admitted through a lottery system and come from both inside and outside Arlington.

It is one of 17 campuses in North Texas that are part of the Uplift Education network. Based in Dallas, Uplift serves about 14,000 students. One of its core missions is “creating quality college preparatory public schools in underserved communities.”

At Summit International, about 94 percent of the student population consists of minority students, compared with 78 percent in the Arlington school district. Seventy-two percent of the Class of 2016 at Summit International will be first-generation college students.

Summit has 380 students, with a list of 42 others waiting for spots in the ninth grade. The curriculum is based on the International Baccalaureate diploma, a worldwide program that encourages both academic achievement and personal development. Each student is also required to take at least two AP classes, starting in the 11th grade.

The culture is unquestionably for the college-bound, with an attitude of “not if, but where.”

“We have the luxury of really having a pipeline of scholars who have been exposed to the International Baccalaureate,” said Tracy Odom, who is in her second year as high school director, Uplift’s term for principal. “I think the big shift in philosophy on our campus has been [that] scholars are taking control of their own learning in the classroom. So the learning is not all teacher-led and teacher-centered.”

For example, IB curriculum calls for students to complete a “personal project” that is a long-term, self-directed exploration of an interest they choose. They are required to detail their work in a “process journal.” All of this is guided by teachers, but students must show initiative and commitment to their studies.

Odom said the high achievement at Summit also stems from strong support from Uplift administrators. Data tools track individual student performance on standardized tests like the pre-ACT and ACT. Those results help faculty know where students need the most help, Odom said.

She also said Summit scholars’ families like the small-school feeling and connection to teachers.

“You really get to know them, and they get to know you and your family,” said Evelyn Sanchez, 17, a junior at Summit whose brother graduated from the school a year ago. Sanchez said Summit doesn’t just demand that students gain college acceptance; school staffers work with seniors to find a college where the scholars can excel and help them seek financial aid to make it affordable for their families.

Summit’s success in matching students and colleges was on display at Uplift’s recent College Signing Day. Instead of sports, the fun, pep-rally-type event held at Southern Methodist University’s Moody Coliseum celebrated seniors’ college plans, with each walking across the stage and announcing where they’ll go.

As they did, the auditorium was filled with cheers from younger students. They know they’ll be on the same stage one day soon.

“That’s really when our spirit comes out,” Sanchez said. “When you see the schools they got accepted to, you’re like, ‘Wow, they’re really good students,’ and it motivates you more.”

Twitter: @tracipeterson

Other area schools ranked

A handful of Northeast Tarrant County area schools also earned spots on the U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings.

Harmony Science Academy in Euless came in at No. 28 in Texas and No. 155 in the U.S.

The Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district’s two highs, both of which offer International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, made the top 200 in Texas. Hurst Bell High School came in at No. 167 and Euless Trinity High School at No. 179.

In the neighboring Grapevine-Colleyville school district, Colleyville Heritage High School was No. 71 in Texas in Grapevine High School was No. 75.

U.S. News tracks only public schools (charter, magnet, specialized and comprehensive).

Most of the top 100 in the Texas U.S. News rankings were magnet and charter schools.