As the principal of MAST Academy, I would like to respond to Michael Bax’s April 28 letter, Quality of public schools is slipping.
The chief barometer used in the various high school rankings in publications such as the US News & World Report and The Washington Post is the number of Advanced Placement (AP) exams administered in any given year compared to the size of the school’s previous graduating class. In 2012, MAST graduated 132 seniors and administered 742 AP exams. On June 4, we will graduate 133 students after administering 967 AP exams, a substantial increase.
Relative to the rankings, MAST’s AP course offerings and student performance are stronger than at any time in the school’s history. We’ve added courses in human geography and European history to an AP menu that already included two English courses, U.S. history, government, economics, French, Spanish, biology, chemistry, calculus, statistics, environmental science, and physics. Entering ninth graders are now required to take a minimum of four AP courses to earn the distinction of a MAST major by the time they graduate. In October 2012, we learned that the College Board named 95 of our students AP Scholars of Merit or Distinction — the highest number to be so recognized in the history of the school. MAST’s aggregate AP pass percentage of 65.4 percent places the school among the highest performing schools in Florida. It’s important to note that there are schools ranked higher than MAST on the US News list with pass percentages 50 points below ours. Perhaps the question comes down to this: Do we want to privilege the ranking over student success? As an educator, I think not.
Bax is concerned about a “lowering” of MAST’s admissions standards. Like the International Baccalaureate (IB) programs across Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), we require a 2.5 GPA in academics and conduct, strong attendance in the current and previous years, honors course work in algebra and physical science and a teacher recommendation. The fact is that MAST never had a required GPA until two years ago when the school’s admissions program was brought into alignment with IB magnets throughout the district.
Bax also addresses a decline in resources and investment. In a bad economy, public education takes a hit; however, the leadership of MDCPS is to be congratulated for the level of services to students and families it has been able to maintain. The recent voter-approved bond proposal will have a very positive impact on the entire system.
I encourage parents to remain involved in school life and decision-making. Their questions provide principals and teachers alike the opportunity to foreground the many good things schools undertake and accomplish on a daily basis.
Jane Garraux, principal, MAST Academy, Miami