PINE BELT (WDAM) - Two Pine Belt high schools are ranked in the top 10 high schools in Mississippi.
"It's very exciting," said Tess Smith, superintendent of the Lamar County School District. "They look nationwide, and we came in about 2,700, I think, nationwide. When you think about how many high schools there are in this great nation, that's pretty awesome, so I'm very excited. Great leadership, just a great group of teachers up there. Throughout our district, we all work very hard. I like to see all of them recognized, so we appreciate any recognition."
Petal School District Superintendent Matt Dillon said schools in his district are always working to be competitive within the state and nationally.
"There's all these unique surveys and different programs that are used to identify ranking systems," Dillon said. "What's so flattering (is) they all look at different things, but we're always mentioned in some of those as one of the top rated."
Rankings are based on a number of factors like the percentage of students taking advanced placement classes and exams, graduation rate and college readiness, which are all factors the districts consider when assessing success and planning for the future.
"Education is changing so much with the dual credit options and the changing AP courses and the emphasis on the ACT," Smith said. "It's great to see that they pulled all of that together because that's what we have to look at, every bit of it. From our state test scores to how well do our students do when they go on to college or to the career area."
26 percent of Oak Grove with more than 1,700 students participate in advanced placement courses with 76 percent of those taking AP exams passing them, and it has a 92 percent graduation rate.
At Petal High School, 27 percent of school's 1,250 students are enrolled in AP classes and 52 percent are passing exams, and it has an 87 percent graduation rate.
"Petal High School has a strong tradition and a history of being very, very good and excellent in what they do, whether it be from academics to fine arts to athletics," Dillon said. "But specifically, the course offerings that we have, all the different things for students for academics, whether we're talking about advanced placement, whether we're talking about dual enrollment, just all the different course offerings and opportunities."
Smith does not think Oak Grove High School made any specific changes in the last year to earn such a high rank, but thinks the success comes from the district's constant push for excellence.
"I think it's a continued focus," she said. "I think we do that throughout K-12 (and) district-wide, and that's what you have to do. You can't sit back and coast at any point, and I'm thankful that our teachers never do that. They're always focused. They want our students to do better. They continue to push them, and they succeed, thankfully."
Dillon said it is the same situation in Petal.
"I think it's just the progressive piece," he said. "We're always looking at ways to get better at what we do, whether it's hiring the best of the best or attracting the best teachers and then retaining them or (if) we're talking about course offerings and ways that we can expose our students to different things, so they can be college and career ready. It's always on our mind. We're always a couple of years in advance as far as those things, and trying to be ahead of the curve. Again, this the expectation that we have in this district, and all of this couldn't happen without our wonderful staff. We have an amazing faculty and staff that go above and beyond at what they do on a daily basis, and they're good at what they do. They have that content knowledge and expertise, but also they have that strong relatability piece that goes into working with young people."
Smith said she is also proud of Oak Grove's performance because it is such a large school, but for Smith, Oak Grove's success is also personal.
"I'm actually a graduate of Oak Grove High School," Smith said. "So always proud of all of our schools, but, like I said, next month (it will be) 30 years since I graduated from Oak Grove High School. So it's great to see that the school is succeeding and doing so exceptionally well."
You can see a full list of how Mississippi's high schools ranked here.