It's time to remove any and all doubt: Columbia County's Lakeside High School is the best public high school in our community.
Newsweek magazine confirmed it last week with its academically based rankings that place Lakeside at No. 309 among public high schools in the country.
"We jumped from 1,198 to 309, which puts us in the top 1 percent nationwide," said Lakeside High School Principal Jeff Carney in an e-mail. "We are proud of our continued work with our Advanced Placement program."
The only area school in the list ranking higher than Lakeside is Augusta's Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, a semi-public school that, unlike Lakeside, does not accept - or have to keep - every student who moves into its geographic attendance zone.
This, then, provides a perfectly encapsulated opportunity for examining one suggestion for improving much-maligned public education.
It certainly isn't through "magnet" schools. It isn't by the parallel funding of a second public school system through "vouchers" and similar neo-liberal nonsense. It isn't through "school choice," a backdoor way of channeling taxpayer funding to favored private schools. And it sure isn't through blindly throwing more money at public education.
No, the way to improve all public schools is to allow schools more of a "choice" in who spends time in those publicly owned classrooms.
That's a huge part of Davidson's success. The school not only selects its students, but it has the power to send those students back to their regularly zoned school if they fail to live up to Davidson's standards.
Lakeside can't do that. Greenbrier can't do that. Evans can't do that. Harlem can't do that. No regular public school can. The most those schools can do with rotten students is apply a mixture of remediation and toleration that drags down everyone's performance.
Magnet schools neatly avoid that problem. But the downside to Davidson, and any magnet school, is that it siphons motivated, top-performing students from other schools in the system in which it is located. Inevitably, Davidson's success will mean less success at other Richmond County high schools deprived of student leaders.
A better plan is one in which all the schools in a system would be deprived not of their best leaders, but would be shed of their worst followers.
We've long advocated a concept in which the county greatly expands its alternative school, both physically and conceptually. Rather than focus primarily on discipline - especially when the worst discipline cases should be ejected from the system, period, rather than warehoused at taxpayer expense - an expanded alternative school should focus on remediation and academic rigor for struggling students.
Those students would see their chances of success improve through a more narrow focus on their challenges. The rest of the county's schools would improve as teachers are freed from spending a disproportionate amount of time on the worst performers.
Will such an idea work? We've heard an earful of the wonders of Davidson, but stone silence about the price the rest of Richmond County's dismal high schools have paid to provide the fuel for that one school's success. Isn't it about time we heard some better ideas?
And isn't the example of the area's best true public high school a good place to start?
Congratulations, Lakeside. Lead on.
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