Oneonta High School was ranked No. 19 out of 248 ranked high schools in Alabama and No. 1,688 nationally, according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2019 rankings of high school performance. More than 17,000 schools were included in the national rankings. Schools in the bottom 25 percent were not ranked.
Rankings were based on student access to advanced placement (AP) courses and tests, state standardized test results, and graduation rates, with emphasis on state reading and math assessments and other college-level exams.
Oneonta High School is notable not only for its high ranking, but for having achieved it under difficult conditions. Of the high schools ranked in the top 25 in Alabama, Oneonta is dead last in total spending per student, and dead last in local spending per student. Oneonta’s total spending per student is nearly $1,800 less than the average of the 24 other high schools in the top 25, and more than $1,800 less than the average local spending per student by the other 24 high schools. In addition, it is tied for second in having the highest student poverty level (38 percent) among the top 25 high schools. Poverty level is generally correlated with lower performance on standardized achievement tests.
The Blount Countian asked Oneonta City Schools Superintendent Daniel Smith to comment on questions related to the high ranking.
TBC: To what and to whom is this achievement attributable?
Smith: “It’s attributable to students, teachers, and parents who encourage enrollment in advanced placement courses and help prepare students for AP exams.”
TBC: What are Oneonta High School’s biggest challenges to sustaining or improving this position among Alabama’s best high schools?
Smith: “The challenge is threefold: first, continuing to train teachers in AP subjects; second, continuing to offer AP courses and enrolling students in those classes; and third, expanding AP course offerings to add additional courses.”
TBC: How do you manage to get the results you do with less per student resources than other top schools? Can you sustain this level of achievement without more funding support? Where does the shortage of funds affect the school most? What suffers the most? What can you do to address the funding shortage problem?
Smith: “We have outstanding, hard-working teachers and students. That’s what drives our results. In general, on your other questions, to optimize educational opportunities for students, we need more funding. It shows up in the forms of needs we can’t immediately meet – for classrooms to meet the need for expanding the AP curriculum and reducing class sizes; for STEM (Science/ Technology/Engineering/Math) labs; for more teachers so we can add things like arts courses; for new athletic facilities because that’s a major interest for the community and for our students. It means we have to put off some of those projects and do them over a longer time period than we’d like. The city board of education has a great vision for the future and they’re wonderful stewards of the money we have to work with, but the truth is we still need more resources if we’re going to continue to compete with the heavyweights. To address the funding shortage, we’ve been trying, and we’re going to keep trying.”