05/03/11 — WEMCHS out of running for Obama speech

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WEMCHS out of running for Obama speech

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 3, 2011 1:46 PM

President Obama will not be the graduation speaker at Wayne Early/Middle College High School after all.

The school, one of six national finalists in a White House competition vying for the presidential appearance at commencement, was notified Monday that it did not make the top three after a week of online voting that ended April 29.

Earlier last month, the high school's video had earned a spot in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, recognizing schools' efforts to prepare students to graduate college and career ready.

Wayne Early/Middle was the only finalist from the state, with a second video produced by the Get Schooled Foundation and posted online. Over the course of the weeklong voting, officials estimated 100,000 people from across the country submitted nearly 300,000 ratings.

The field was narrowed down to the top three schools -- High Tech International in San Diego, Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, and Bridgeport High School in Washington -- with the president expected to select a winner later this week.

"It was a big disappointment," WEMCHS principal Lee Johnson said this morning. "We were excited and hopeful, but I told the students and teachers to keep in mind that we were six out of the whole country.

"It brought a lot of attention to our school."

It was a "good run," she said, but nevertheless a letdown to be knocked out of the competition.

And yet there was a silver lining in the midst of the announcement, Mrs. Johnson said.

"We were No. 4, and I don't understand the ratings, but they told us we were .5 in the ratings behind the No. 3 school," she said.

The school will still have a prestigious guest speaker at its May 26 graduation, she said, in the form of a Cabinet member.

But they already know that it won't be Sen. Hillary Clinton or Vice President Joe Biden.

"(The White House contact) said she would contact us within the next three days and they would try to entertain our schedule," she said. "Hillary and the vice president, she knew their schedules were already booked.

"I'm going to talk to my staff and my students today. I don't have any idea who (the cabinet member) would turn out to be."

Mrs. Johnson hinted that one option might be the secretary of education, noting that the occasion would be a good opportunity to show off the school's merits. Since its inception in the fall of 2006, it has boasted a 100 percent graduation rate.

The announcement will likely come later this week, after the president decides where he will speak and who will be assigned at the other finalist schools.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Johnson said she was grateful to all who backed WEMCHS in the contest.

"We really appreciate everybody's support -- everybody in the city and even in the state, to the governor's office," she said. "We got so much support, everybody coming together for a common goal.

"We still have a lot to celebrate, with this graduation being our first early college group. It was a wonderful opportunity, we learned a lot from it."