December 2011

Head of Its Class

Author: David Tobias

Imagine the apple of your eye, the kid you thought you knew, the one you pictured going to college someday bringing home an “F.” What do you do? Grounded for life? A long, stern talk? Back behind the woodshed wit-cha?

What if it’s the whole school bringing home an “F” on its report card—a big, glaring, ugly “F” from the South Carolina Department of Education? Now what do you do?

For the Hilton Head Island High School administration, and especially principal Amanda O’Nan, an “F”—a rating of “at risk” five years ago—initiated a mission to turn things around in a big way, dedicating staff and resources to make sure that this spot at the bottom of a statewide rating system didn’t happen again. In fact, the goal was to flip things 180 degrees, turn this high school on its head and come out of it with an above average grade—maybe even an “A.”

On Sunday, November 6, O’Nan learned that her high school had moved to the head of the class, achieving an “Excellent”—one of only four in the entire county—jumping two grade levels from an “Average” last year. The rating was based on a graduation rate that went up 11.1 percent, end-of-course U.S. History exams up 30 percent and High School Assessment Program marks that increased, according to O’Nan, “quite a bit.”

O’Nan kept the secret until report cards were released statewide on Thursday, November 10. That’s when all 1,184 Hilton Head High School students found out—via computer-generated avatars—that the whole school would be jumping for joy that afternoon, celebrating success in bouncy houses on the high school football field, with snow cones and pizza and cotton candy for all. It wasn’t a party, O’Nan was quick to point out, but truly a surprise celebration.

“I figure we worked hard,” she said, “so we should be able to play hard.”

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