04/10/11 — WEMCHS finalist in bid for Obama

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WEMCHS finalist in bid for Obama

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 10, 2011 1:50 AM

Wayne Early/Middle College High School is one of six public high schools in the country vying for the chance to have President Obama speak at graduation.

The White House and the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday its list of finalists for this year's Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge.

The president has set a goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, inviting the country's public high schools to submit applications to demonstrate their commitment to preparing students for college and a career.

Hundreds of applications were received and judged based on the school's performance, essay questions and supplemental data. The six finalists were chosen for their creativity in engaging and supporting students, academic results and progress in preparing students to graduate college and career ready.

Other finalists include Bridgeport High School (Washington), Booker T. Washington High School (Memphis, Tenn.), Science Park High School (Newark, N.J.), Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, School for Creative and Performing Arts (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and High Tech High International (San Diego).

WEMCH, affiliated with Wayne County Public Schools and housed on the Wayne Community College campus, opened in the fall of 2006. The first year it had only juniors and seniors, adding an additional grade each year until all four high school grades were in place.

"This graduating class of 2011 is our first class where we have had the students since ninth grade," said Lee Johnson, principal. "Many of them will be getting a high school diploma and two-year associate degree. We call them our 'legacy class.'"

Because of the milestone, Mrs. Johnson said the students had discussed inviting someone special to speak at this year's commencement. When she later received a memo announcing the contest, she knew it was a good fit, she said, and drew immediate response from students at the school.

"The whole video was put together by two 10th-graders using a Canon camera and then they used some of our software for special effects," she said.

She was notified by the White House on Thursday that her school was on the list of finalists for the country, the only one representing North Carolina, and immediately scheduled a schoolwide assembly.

Unfortunately, she had to miss it but for good reason -- to attend the birth of her granddaughter.

"We arranged for all my kids and staff to be there at one o'clock so they could all find out," she said. "They said they went wild."

Over the next few weeks, each school's students will work with The Get Schooled Foundation, which includes Viacom among its founding partners, to create a short video highlighting how the school best fulfills the challenge's criteria.

The six videos, along with portions of each school's written application, will be featured on the White House website in the coming weeks and the public will have an opportunity to vote for the three schools they think best meet the president's goal. The president will select a national winner from the three finalists and will visit the winning high school to deliver the commencement later this spring.