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WKS achieves national ranking

William Kelley High School in Silver Bay recently received a bronze ranking from U.S. News and World Report's "Best High Schools in America." (News-Chronicle photo by Jamey Malcomb)

William Kelley High School in Silver Bay was recently included in U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings of the "Best High Schools in America."

The rankings are compiled through a four-step process ensuring the school serves all its students well and uses performance on the math and reading parts of state proficiency tests, with demographic information like students eligible for free or reduced lunch factored in, and graduation rates as a benchmark. The final step evaluates how well a school prepares its students for college-level work by providing advanced placement courses and using student performance to further rate the schools.

WKHS was rated at the bronze level, meaning it serves students well, students outperform state standards in reading and math and it has a high graduation rate. The school doesn't have any AP courses currently and so was only eligible for the bronze rating. This is, however, the second time in the last two years that WKHS has been recognized for its high graduation rates. Last year, the Minnesota Department of Education recognized the school for surpassing the state's goal of 90 percent graduation with no student group below 85 percent in 2015. In 2015, WKHS had a 97 percent graduation rate and in 2016, according to the data used by U.S. News to determine the ranking, the rate ticked up to 98 percent.

"It puts the spotlight on our school to show that we have strong programs in all areas there and that our staff is doing an excellent job on academic achievement which leads to a high graduation rate," Lake Superior School District superintendent Bill Crandall said.

Crandall said WKHS's graduation rates have remained strong, but marked improvement in academic areas helped push it over the top for the bronze level ranking. In addition, WKHS principal Joe Nicklay is looking at moving to an AP model in math, English and social studies where students could earn credit and be better prepared when entering college.

With flexible teachers and an eight-period day, WKHS is able to offer a large variety of classes to students and provide more unique avenues of study.

"Our staff have always been willing to change the curriculum, update it, have an offering one year and offer a different one the next year to allow for more opportunities for our students," Nicklay said. "It's not like they just teach one class and that's all there is to it. For example forestry might be offered one year and wildlife management another year to offer staggered opportunities."

The ranking is a nice achievement for the school, but it also has an impact on the larger Silver Bay community at large. If a father or mother gets a job at Northshore Mining and their spouse gets a job in Two Harbors, their family may choose to settle in Silver Bay instead of elsewhere in the county because of the presence of a nationally ranked high school.

Nicklay credited not only the variety of classes and the commitment of students and teachers that helped WKHS achieve this award, but also the state of Minnesota's standards.

"It's a great award for our school, and I think it's nice to see that," Nicklay said. "It's also because Minnesota has put so many requirements on our school, it makes sure our kids are ready. I think the Minnesota system does a great job of making sure our kids are ready and we have great offerings for our kids."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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