At Green Hope High School in Cary, goals are lofty

snagem@newsobserver.comMay 8, 2014 

— As an assistant principal at one of Wake County’s most-heralded high schools, Kim Collins isn’t surprised anymore when she answers the phone: Parents, sometimes from out of state, want to know where they should move so their kids can attend Green Hope High.

It’s no secret that families are attracted to Green Hope, which has a sprawling campus nestled among new housing developments in western Cary. The school is known for having smart students who test well.

Last school year, 84.1 percent of Green Hope students tested at or above grade level in English. That was the highest percentage among the eight high schools that enroll students from western Wake County, and more than 20 percentage points above the Wake County average.

Green Hope saw the same proficiency score in biology, again topping the western Wake County schools.

Meanwhile, the school of more than 2,400 students had 17 dropouts last school year – the second-lowest number in western Wake, behind nearby Panther Creek High.

That year, the school also issued the fewest short-term suspensions in the western region.

A big accolade for Green Hope came last month, when the school received a “gold medal” from the U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best High Schools list. Green Hope ranked 304th nationally.

The school also came in at No. 463 in the Washington Post’s “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” list last month.

“We’re proud of our accomplishments, and we’re proud of what our students and what our teachers do,” said Collins, who took a teaching job at the school when it opened in 1999.

While the school has gained a reputation for being brainy, it’s also known for being wealthy. Many parents who move to western Cary work in the technology industry in Research Triangle Park.

Among western Wake high schools, Green Hope has the lowest percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch – 6.3 percent.

By comparison, 31.7 percent of students at Cary High receive free or reduced-price lunch, according to Wake County school data.

Green Hope’s success might be a source of pride for the community, but some say it points to issues of inequality in Wake County schools.

Many parents in western Cary have the personal experiences to help their children achieve, said Shannon Hardy, a parent who has advocated for school improvements in eastern Wake County.

Hardy said the school system needs to invest more money in schools like Knightdale High, where she said her daughter hasn’t been able to take Advanced Placement chemistry because not enough students have signed up.

“It’s hard because I know my daughter is not getting the same educational opportunities as someone in western Wake,” Hardy said.

Smart is popular

On the surface, Green Hope doesn’t seem much different than any other public high school.

Students walk in groups between classes, hang out at lockers at lunch and attend after-school activities.

The hallways might be quieter than a lot of schools, and Collins said that’s a sign of students’ focus.

For many, their main goal is to get good grades.

“I think at most schools the popular kids are the jocks,” said Mackenzie Koeller, 18, Green Hope’s student body president. “The popular kids here are smart.”

Shannon Thompson, the senior class president, said she has earned only one B in high school – in Advanced Placement Spanish.

But she hasn’t spent all her time studying. She works two jobs, at an ice cream shop and an insurance agency.

“I recently started a retirement account,” said Thompson, 17, who plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall to study business.

Ojimaojo Agada is a 16-year-old senior who’s headed to Princeton in a few months.

He was born in Nigeria, and he said his family put a strong emphasis on education.

“It’s been a big part of my life,” he said. “I mean, I have to do it.”

Parents set the bar high at Green Hope, said Collins, the assistant principal. They often call teachers to ask about their children’s grades.

“Everything about them is kind of judged,” Collins said of teachers. “Kids are paying attention, and parents are paying attention.”

Carl Rush, who teaches Advanced Placement environmental science and marine ecology, said he doesn’t mind hearing from so many parents.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Rush said.

Athletic prowess

While Green Hope has emerged as an academic powerhouse in North Carolina, the school has also seen plenty of athletic success.

The school has won four straight N.C. High School Athletic Association Wells Fargo 4A State Cup awards, given to the top athletic programs based on postseason finishes across all sports.

Green Hope has officially won 17 state championship titles – plus two state titles in girls’ lacrosse before it became a sanctioned sport.

The cross country, golf and tennis teams have won consecutive conference titles.

Wayne Bragg, the school’s athletic director, said academic and athletic success go “hand in hand” at Green Hope.

Many students have been playing club sports or taking private lessons since they were young, he said.

Koeller, the student body president, said she earned a scholarship to Campbell University in the fall – half academic, half athletic. She plays lacrosse.

After school, she would regularly attend two-hour practices, then spend a few hours on homework.

“I just look back on my junior year and think of exhaustion,” Koeller said. “But it was worth it.”

Nagem: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @BySarahNagem

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