CORDELE — The town of Cordele is now known for something other than its watermelon.
Its only high school, Crisp County High, is ranked as one of the nation’s best public high schools in this week’s edition of U.S. News & World Report.
The high school was one of 29 in Georgia ranked — and the only one in Middle Georgia. Among the rating criteria, its students had higher-than-average test scores in reading and math on state exams.
The school’s population is 61 percent black, and 81 percent of those students were proficient in reading and math, compared with 94 percent of the school’s “nondisadvantaged” population, the report stated.
“It blew my mind,” English teacher Bettye Deriso said. “Sometimes we may not think our kids are where they are or what we’re doing is significant.”
“We are here in south Georgia, but we are ranked and so elated. We’re doing something right.”
The report placed schools in four categories, based on their achievements: gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention.
Crisp County High was among 1,189 schools nationally to get a “bronze” ranking, while 461 schools nationally ranked “silver” and 100 schools attained “gold.”
Those schools awarded the gold and silver not only had higher performing students, but a higher percentage of students considered “college ready.” The report measured whether schools had a high number taking and passing Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and exams. Crisp didn’t qualify for the higher ranking because it didn’t have enough students taking AP classes or tests. It does not offer IB courses.
Crisp teachers say they don’t buy in to ninth-grade academies or other education trends to make school gains. It’s more an atmosphere and mindset of success and taking a simple approach to achievement.
Walk into the school, and the first eye-level sign on the front entrance reads: “Head up, pants up, grades up.”
Another one posted in the cafeteria entrance says: “No student will fail at Crisp County High School this year.”
“(Our principal) sets the bar up there high,” senior Cody Stripling said. “It’s everybody thinking big.”
“The students do meet teachers halfway,” agreed Stanford Thomas, a 10th-grader who was working on geometry in an Accelerated Math II class down another hall.
Seniors must pass their state exams in order to walk during graduation ceremonies. Most teachers stay after school for student tutoring, and the school uses its classroom technology for student learning.
This past school year on the Georgia High School Graduation Tests, 91 percent of Crisp students passed math, 89 percent passed English, 94 percent passed science, and 87 percent passed social studies.
School principal Toriano Gilbert, a former baseball coach who keeps a metal detector wand in his office, said he’s big into motivational speakers and telling students they can.
“I’m not going to say there’s a magical formula,” Gilbert said. “I think it’s two simple things: having high expectations for everyone and believing.”
High Schools in Columbus, Savannah, Augusta and Marietta also ranked in the U.S. News report, which analyzed 18,743 of the nation’s 21,786 public high school.