Public Schools | Private Schools | Serving Minorities & Special Needs

Top-Rated Schools That Support Minorities and Students With Special Needs


We asked readers which local high schools had impressed them and why. More than 300 people responded to The Washington Post Magazine's Back Fence Survey, nominating high schools and explaining what made them worthy of praise. Those who weighed in included parents, teachers, principals, students, alumni and community leaders.

In addition to the Back Fence responses, we talked to education experts, visited schools and examined the numbers. Then we compiled a list of 30 exceptional public and private high schools from across the region.

Annandale High School
Annandale, Va.

About This School:
  • Location: Annandale, Va.
  • Population: 2,455 students (34.6 percent white, 15.6 percent black, 26.1 percent Hispanic, 21.6 percent Asian, 37 percent low-income)
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 1019; 93 percent pass state English test and 64 percent pass state math test
  • Challenge Index rating: 1.540
  • Teachers: 72 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 55.2 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile »

This is one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the country, with a team of administrators and teachers who have worked for years to provide the kind of academic challenge they think all students deserve. Seven years ago, the school was in the doldrums, with an AP participation rate below the national average. Last year it was one of the most successful IB schools in the country, ranking in the top 3 percent of schools as measured by college-level test participation.

In an article recently published in Educational Leadership magazine, Eileen Gale Kugler, a school diversity expert and former Annandale parent, and Erin McVadon Albright, the school's IB coordinator, described how Annandale increased minority participation in college-level courses. One African American student quoted in the article thanked the school for "not letting her easily drop pre-IB and IB classes but giving her support and talking to her parents."

Banneker Academic High School
Washington, D.C.

About This School:
  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Population: 3412 students (3 percent white, 91 percent black, 3 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, 27 percent low-income)
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 1074; 92.6 percent pass District English test, 94.5 percent pass District math test
  • Challenge Index rating: 3.432
  • Teachers: 76 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 99 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile »

This D.C. magnet school survived early years when some school board members thought it was elitist and wrong to allow a public school to select from the most academically ambitious students in the city. Banneker has only 400 students -- almost all African American -- and sits in an old building across the street from Howard University, far from many of its students' homes. But it has won academic contests and attracted some of the city's best teachers.

Principal Patricia Tucker and several faculty members added an IB program to Banneker's already successful AP program, making it one of the area's highest-performing schools.


GW Community School
Springfield, Va.

About This School:
  • Location: Springfield, Va.
  • Population: 56 students
  • Tuition: $18,800
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 1200
  • Challenge Index rating: 1.111
  • Teachers: 70 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 85 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile: No profile available

This tiny private school is not well-known, but it has many boosters among experts. "I have sent some families there," says special education consultant Pam Broome. "The parents loved it, and the students have been successful there."

Director Alexa Warden notes that "we do not consider ourselves a school for students with special education needs." But parents say its innovative curriculum, including long-term projects and community service, enriches young lives, engaging students who are both academically gifted and have learning disabilities. Jon Schaffer says of his son's experience, GW "has a very nurturing environment that has allowed him, and others like him, to flourish."

Lab School of Washington
Washington, D.C.

About This School:
  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Population: 140 students
  • Tuition: $24,000 to $25,000
  • School declined to provide other information.
  • School Guide profile: No profile available

Founded in 1967, this private school on Reservoir Road NW has earned the praise of parents and experts. The founder and director, American University professor Sally L. Smith, designed a program based on active forms of learning for special ed students. "The LSW teaches through the arts," says parent Colleen Danos. "It's heaven! And it's working so beautifully for our son."

Special education consultant Pam Broome says parents throughout the area say to themselves, "If I could just get my kid into the Lab School." The problem is that there is not enough space for all who want to be there.

The Nora School
Silver Spring, Md.

About This School:
  • Location: Silver Spring, Md.
  • Population: 60 students (65 percent white, 25 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic)
  • Tuition: $16,850
  • Test scores: Average SAT range 860 to 1470
  • Teachers: 85 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 90 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile: No profile available

When one of Washington's most selective private high schools tried and failed to use threats to get Sylvia Royce's daughter to do her school work, Royce moved her to the small and little known Nora School. It specializes in helping students who hit the brick wall of adolescence too hard and discover that the achievement-oriented administrators in their old schools don't know how to nurse them back to health.

Although Royce's daughter "continued to have some problems, Nora was able to roll with the punches," Royce says. "Nora seemed to have a real knack for sensing when to push on something and when to let it go." Her daughter made friends, got better and is now at a state university, thinking about law school.

Springbrook High School
Silver Spring, Md.

About This School:
  • Location: Silver Spring, Md.
  • Population: 2,001 students (17 percent white, 44 percent black, 20 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Asian, 21 percent low-income)
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 1047; 60.1 percent pass state English test, 36.7 percent pass state math test
  • Challenge Index rating: 2.391
  • Teachers: 80 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 55 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile »

This very large school has one of the most experienced and respected principals in the region, Michael A. Durso, as well as a racially mixed student body that has embraced AP and IB college-level course programs. It gave more than 1,000 AP and IB tests last year, and many of the academic and student leaders are African American, Hispanic or other minorities.

Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School
Washington, D.C.

About This School:
  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Population: 226 students (100 percent black, 71 percent low-income)
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 795; 22 percent pass District English test, 42.4 percent pass District math test
  • Challenge Index rating: No AP tests in 2004
  • Teachers: 53 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: A projected 100 percent of this year's first graduating class will go to a four-year college
  • School Guide profile »

The charter school was founded by several attorneys and law professors who have tapped into the area's considerable legal talent. The school focuses on law and politics, and invests a great deal of time in preparing low-income students for college. It uses a longer day, a longer week and a longer year, along with intensive after-school tutoring. There is an emphasis on critical thinking and public speaking.

T.C. Williams High School
Alexandria, Va.

About This School:
  • Location: Alexandria, Va.
  • Population: 2,029 students (26 percent white, 42.3 percent black, 24.3 percent Hispanic, 6.9 percent Asian, 40 percent low-income)
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 957; 88 percent pass state English test, 74 percent pass state math test
  • Challenge Index rating: 5.747
  • Teachers: 77 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 49 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile »

Rarely do the races mix as well as they do at T.C. Its dramatic birth as a multiethnic school that rejected the assumptions of segregation made a great film, "Remember the Titans." But the real story is even more interesting: Education-conscious parents, white and black, and a team of very talented educators agreed that they could produce a high-performing school for everyone and prevent an exodus to private schools or other districts.

More T.C. students are in AP courses this year than ever before. A brand-new building with all the modern wireless conveniences will rise soon next to the old building on King Street. The most difficult challenge is finding a replacement for John Porter, the wizard principal who was key to the school's winning formula and who has been promoted to assistant superintendent of public affairs for the Alexandria school district.

Wakefield High School
Arlington, Va.


Hands-on AP biology at Wakefield. Teacher Maria Johnson helps seniors Selan Alemu, left, and Crystal St. Bernard. (Pilar Vergara - For The Washington Post)
About This School:
  • Location: Arlington, Va.
  • Population: 31,442 students (16.6 percent white, 26.9 percent black, 46.2 percent Hispanic, 10.1 percent Asian, 49.6 percent low-income)
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 971; 92 percent pass state English test, 61.4 percent pass state math test
  • Challenge Index rating: 2.090
  • Teachers: 76.5 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 45 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile »

The building looks old and a bit threadbare on its hill overlooking Route 7, but it has one of the most aggressive and successful programs in the area for engaging low-income minority students and getting them ready for college.

The previous principal, Marie Shiels-Djouadi, and several energetic teachers built a ninth-grade academy that looked for underachieving students and prepared them for the most challenging courses. The current principal, Doris Jackson, has deepened that tradition with the Advanced Placement Network, a plan to have every student take at least one AP course, with extra help and a summer program, and with the Cohort, small groups of boys in each grade who meet regularly to discuss how to survive in the difficult courses they have been coaxed into taking.

Wakefield has one of the highest AP participation rates in the country, particularly for a school where half of the students are poor enough to qualify for federal meal subsidies. It is also the only public school in the region that requires all seniors to complete a special project.

Walter Johnson High School
Bethesda, Md.


Diane D'Ambrosio Morris, a teacher at Walter Johnson, with Devin Stevens. (Chris Hartlove - For The Washington Post)
About This School:
  • Location: Bethesda, Md.
  • Population: 1,989 students (65.1 percent white, 9.8 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic, 12.9 percent Asian, 5 percent low-income, 13 percent special education)
  • Test scores: Average SAT: 1177; 83.3 percent pass state English test, 73.8 percent pass state math test
  • Challenge Index rating: 2.951
  • Teachers: 84 percent of teachers have master's or PhD
  • College-bound: 75 percent of seniors go to four-year colleges
  • School Guide profile »

The Academic Support Center, part of this large, high-performing high school, is well regarded among Montgomery County parents of children with learning disabilities. It has class sizes of 10 to 15 students, and sometimes smaller. The curriculum is designed both for students who want a full diploma and to attend college, and those who want a certificate of completion so they can look for a job.

Meg Robinson, whose son is working for a diploma, says the most impressive factor is the dedication of the center's staff. "I am constantly e-mailing teachers about assignments, tests, behavior and anything else that requires my attention. The teachers stay in touch with me, sometimes on a daily basis, so that we are able to work as a team when issues or concerns come up," she says. The students are also made to feel a part of the larger school, with Robinson's son welcomed on the cross-country team.

Public Schools | Private Schools | Serving Minorities & Special Needs


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