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4 LI high schools named to nation's top 100

A file photo of Jennifer Sullivan teaching her

A file photo of Jennifer Sullivan teaching her Living Environment class at South Side High School in Rockville Centre. (Feb. 2, 2011) Credit: Steve Pfost

Four Long Island high schools were named among the top 100 in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.

South Side High School in Rockville Centre was listed at 22, Jericho at 94, Commack at 95 and Locust Valley at 99.

The publication analyzed 21,776 high schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia, based on factors including their effort to educate all students, not just the college-bound.

South Side's high rank came as a surprise to Principal Carol Burris; she thought the publication would have called for test results.

Burris and her staff -- who serve about 1,100 students -- were overjoyed and believe the recognition stems from their move toward inclusion. All 11th-graders at South Side are required to take the toughest literature course offered: International Baccalaureate Language and Literature, Higher Level.

"We believe all students are entitled to the best curriculum we have to offer," Burris said. "We do not sort and select students. We don't believe in tracking. We found that this is the winning formula for closing the achievement gap."

Henry Grishman, head of the Jericho schools, said his district is unique in that all members of the community -- including those with no children in the school system -- back its efforts. The high school serves roughly 1,200 students.

"We have support from all sides," he said.

Donald James, superintendent of the Commack district, said his teachers make sure no student goes unnoticed. The high school has more than 2,400 students.

"Our staff pay attention to every child, whether it is a child performing at the highest level or a child who needs additional support," he said. "Someone knows their name and they are working directly with those children."

Locust Valley High School, which serves more than 700 kids, used to track its students. Superintendent Anna Hunderfund said a more inclusive approach means additional students have a chance to take rigorous courses.

"It's amazing what kids can do when you don't tell them they can't do it," she said.

She said children mature at different ages, and if the school keeps them out of high-level classes because of past performance, they might miss out.

"Anybody who is willing to try will be supported," she said. "We don't establish ceilings for anybody. We allow them to go as fast and as far as they can and we support them . . . regardless of whatever came before."

Principal Kieran McGuire said, "It's cool to be smart at Locust Valley High School."

Alan B. Groveman, head of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said it's "always impressive and beneficial" for schools to be added to such lists, but that the rankings often favor wealthier areas where college-level Advanced Placement and IB courses are in abundance.

"It is not atypical to see schools in more affluent neighborhoods make such lists while schools of similar quality in poorer districts do not," he said.

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