Memphis-based Booker T. Washington High School has been named the winner of the 2011 White House’s Race to the Top Commencement Challenge. The grand prize is a visit from President Obama, who will deliver the school’s commencement speech next month.
The challenge is a component of the president’s goal to significantly increase by 2020 the number students who graduate from high school prepared to successfully compete in college or the workforce. Applicants must complete essay questions and provide statistical information that demonstrates how the schools are promoting the president’s mission and establishing a culture that encourages high expectations and academic excellence. The public gets to rate the submissions online and this year nearly 100,000 people voted.
Booker T. Washington beat two other finalists, San Diego’s High Tech High International and Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Washington. The three finalists beat Wayne Early Middle College High School (Goldsboro, North Carolina), Science Park High School (Newark, New Jersey) and Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, School for Creative and Performing Arts (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
Since 2007, Booker T. Washington’s graduate rate has risen to 81.6 percent in 2010 from a low of 55 percent in 2007. In what some may consider an unusual move, the school has enacted single-sex classrooms so students will be more focused. Apparently it’s working. In addition to the substantially better graduation rates, students are taking advanced placement classes and earning college credits.
“I’m so proud of the schools that participated in this year’s commencement challenge and I want to thank all of them for their hard work and dedication,” Obama said. “Booker T. Washington High School proves what can be accomplished when students, teachers, parents and administrators come together to support achievement in the classroom and I’m looking forward to delivering the commencement address at this extraordinary school soon.”