“Best” U.S. News ranking invokes conflicted feelings from students


Greer Vermilye

U.S. News & World Report ranked Whitman as the best high school in Maryland and the 111th best in the country for the 2020–2021 school year. Though many students emphasized their appreciation for the school’s academic rigor, some aren’t sure that the school deserved the honors.

By Samantha Wang and Claire Lane

Following the release of the U.S. News & World Report rankings that named Whitman as the best high school in Maryland and the 111th best in the country for the 2020–2021 school year, many students were left wondering if the school truly deserved the honors. 

In the 2018–2019 school year, U.S. News also deemed Whitman the best high school in the state — on the same day that the MCPD launched a hate-bias investigation of two students at the school. The then-freshmen had posted photos of themselves wearing blackface —  captioned with a racist slur — on social media days before the ranking’s release. 

“A school shouldn’t be number one if it isn’t making every student feel safe,” junior Anna Curran said. “Racism and ignorance is a huge problem at Whitman, and that should be reflected in the ranking.”

An additional public instance of hate at the school targeted the Black community last March when a student spray painted a depiction of a noose, language pertaining to lynching and the n-word on school property. That June, the same student and two others painted identical graffiti on a campus utility shed. The MCPD arrested the students for the vandalism two days later, but the incident still pained many in the community.

“Being a person of color, I felt like I was targeted, in a way,” junior Grace Kuaho said. “The many efforts to combat racism in our school are not paying off.”

On April 23, two juniors discovered anti-Asian graffiti in the auditorium. Principal Robert Dodd later confirmed in an email to the community that the vandalism occurred in a previous school year. 

Over the past two years, the student and staff-driven initiative OneWhitman has sought to combat prejudice at the school through open discussions about bias. Administrators will also implement a new program at Whitman for the 2021–2022 school year — The Leadership Academy for Social Justice — which will give students an opportunity to take African American History, LGBTQ+ Studies and Women’s Studies courses. Students in the classes will complete capstone projects of their choosing and pursue optional internships, according to an email Dodd sent to staff members. 

Still, SGA President Kushan Weerakoon believes that administrators have consistently failed to handle the racially-driven incidents with suitable force, he said.

 “Although I think Whitman, logically, does deserve this specific ranking because it’s based on the metrics, it’s important to recognize that these rankings are not the only thing that makes it,” Weerakoon said. “The school has not effectively handled the anti-Asian incident. The response felt too similar to ones made in the past, which were all ineffective to prevent reoccurrence.” 

Regardless of Whitman’s top rankings, Kuaho has “lost hope in the school,” she said.

 Sophomore Jacob Paolo said he felt similarly and that he doesn’t believe the racist incidents reflect well on Whitman’s standing as the “best” school in the state. 

 “It’s been less than a month since we returned to in-person instruction, and right off the bat, there’s anti-Asian graffiti in the auditorium,” he said. “That says a lot about Whitman.” 

In contrast to some students’ uneasiness, the rankings pleased many staff members, some of whom said they believe that Whitman’s success is likely due to students’ continuous perseverance in academics. 

“We have people who are very willing to learn and work through new situations and changes,” said psychology teacher Sheryl Freedman. “Our students are extremely resilient and impressive in terms of what they’re able to accomplish.”

Paolo, too, said he believes that the school cultivates a high-quality learning environment. 

“Whitman is well known for its alumni,” Paolo said. “People that have graduated from Whitman tend to be more successful in life because of the education our school has provided.”

However, the top ratings still puzzled some students. Curran doesn’t understand why U.S News ranks schools using standardized criteria since she doesn’t believe that numbers can depict the whole story, she said. 

“If we are talking in terms of academics and whether or not students go onto good colleges, I do think Whitman should be ranked highly,” Curran said. “However, that isn’t all that defines a school. The ranking should take a more holistic approach to more accurately rate Whitman.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on May 8, 2021.