Commonwealth Journal

April 28, 2014

In a Class of Their Own

Pulaski, Somerset & Southwestern among Kentucky’s finest high schools

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

All three local public high schools in the area have found themselves at the head of the class in Kentucky, according to the rankings of a prominent publication.
U.S. News & World Report, in its latest listings of the best high schools in the country, awarded “silver medal” status to Pulaski County High School and Southwestern High School of the Pulaski County School District, and to Somerset High School of the Somerset Independent School District.
All three made the list of 28 ranked for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Southwestern was the 21st best school in the state, according to the publication. Somerset was next at no. 23, and Pulaski County placed 27th.
The top five ranked schools — duPont Manual, North Oldham, Highlands, South Oldham and Beechwood — all received “gold medal” status, but only a select few beneath them qualified for silver, and local school officials were very pleased to be among that group.
“We’re very, very proud,” said Wes Cornett, principal of Somerset High School. “When you get that kind of distinction from an organization (like U.S. News & World Report), that’s one of the highest awards you can get. It brings to fruition all of our hard work.”
Schools outside the top 28 in Kentucky that made the list were given a “bronze ranking.”
In the national rankings, Southwestern placed no.1,517, Somerset no. 1,780, and Pulaski, no. 1,917.
According to U.S. News & World Report, all 31,242 public schools in the 50 states and District of Columbia were analyzed and evaluated on a specific set of criteria. These included:
• Whether the students at a school were performing better than what was statistically expected for an average student in that state;
• Number of economically disadvantaged and minority students to exceed statistic expectations;
• College-readiness performance, using Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test data as benchmarks.
(Visit for more information about the evaluation process.)
“It’s a great thing for our staff and our students to be recognized,” said Danita Ellis, Southwestern principal. “For Southwestern to be one of those (honored), it’s a tribute to how hard the staff and students work every day.”
Mike Murphy, principal at Pulaski County, referenced his school’s HUB status — as a school that had been considering underperforming that turned it around and now serves as a model for other schools — as a feather in their cap.
“Once again, our students have been recognized for their academic performance,” said Murphy. “This recognition, as well as our HUB school designation, conforms that we serve an amazing group of students at Pulaski County High School.”
Cornett noted that there was an emphasis placed on how students did in English and Algebra in the rankings’ criteria, and that’s one reason why Somerset excelled.
“There are quite a few of our students meeting proficiency in both areas; that’s a big one,” he said. “Our college and career readiness is very high, one of the highest in the state. That’s the ACT and CTE (Career and Technology Education) classes, completing industry requirements. ... We’ve shown high levels in that.”
Murphy said that AP (advanced placement) classes and advanced career track classes were key for Pulaski County.
“We have a couple of career tracks — engineering is a certified career track at Pulaski County, and just this week now, we’re bio-medical certified, one of only six in the states,” said Murphy. “Several colleges give college credits to students that take this classes. ... It’s evident that our community truly values and supports education and our staff puts the needs of students first.”
Ellis likewise credited the overall community support and values for helping create an environment where all three high schools could succeed.
“I think it’s just the value we place on education,” she said. “We recognize as a community how important it is for students to be very well-prepared for the next level. Our students answer the challenge every year and I think it’s pretty awesome.”