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Limestone magnet school ranked 14th best math and science high school in US

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Math teacher Pete Pedersen (center) directs students' attention to the dry-erase board as they crunch numbers in an accelerated advance math class at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in April 2009. In the front row are sophomores Casey Thornton (left) of Waterboro and Devin Ward (right) of Greenville. The school was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the 14th best math and science high school out of about 600 in the nation on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2011.
By jen lynds, Special to the BDN

LIMESTONE, Maine — Since the Maine School of Science and Mathematics opened in 1995, students and faculty have racked up countless accolades for the facility.

The latest one arrived Wednesday when the magnet school was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the 14th best math and science high school out of about 600 in the nation. The school also topped other schools from New England who made the list.

“We were very excited to hear the news,” Catherine Reilly, director of external relations for the school, said Thursday. “Although we have been recognized before by U.S. News & World Report, this is the first time they have looked at high schools who specialize in math and science.”

The Limestone school caters to students in grades 10 through 12 from approximately 81 Maine communities. A handful of students from out of state also attend MSSM each year. The majority of students live in residence halls on campus.

To be included in the inaugural Best High Schools for Math and Science ranking, a school first had to be listed as either Gold, Silver or Honorable Mention in the U.S. News Best High School rankings, first published in 2007. At that time, the national publication ranked MSSM as the 35th best high school in the nation, making it one of only 100 high schools to earn a gold medal.

Officials from U.S. News said 598 high schools were eligible to compete in the new math and science category.

Reilly noted that the ranking is based on how well schools prepare students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics as measured by the proportion of students taking and passing college-level Advanced Placement tests in those subjects.

According to U.S. News, 91.9 percent of 12th-graders at MSSM took at least one AP or an equivalent test at some point during high school, with 76.5 percent passing.

The school that placed first on the math and science list, High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J., had 100 percent of its students taking at least one AP or an equivalent test, with 98.6 percent passing.

Luke Shorty, executive director at MSSM, said students, faculty and staff were excited by this week’s news.

“We are very pleased to have the hard work and dedication of our students and faculty recognized in this way,” he said. “This is a powerful testament to the quality of our state’s public education system. As Maine seeks to expand its knowledge-based economy and retain talent in its work force, MSSM is proving to be a sound public investment.”

U.S. News & World Report also has recognized MSSM as one of America’s Best High Schools every year since 2007.

Virtually all of the students who attend MSSM do so with the intention of going on to college, and school officials have estimated that 75 to 80 percent of MSSM graduates go on to pursue higher-level degrees. Its graduates include Rhodes and Fulbright scholars, nuclear engineers, medical doctors, teachers, professors and entrepreneurs.

Reilly said she believes the accolades are helping to attract students to MSSM, and so are the “dedicated, talented teachers.”

“The faculty is the key to why our students have become so successful,” she said. “They are here early, they stay late, and they love what they do. At the same time, our students are remarkably intelligent, driven and passionate about learning. They challenge their teachers.”

At this point, there are 108 students enrolled at MSSM, down from 135 when the school first opened. Reilly attributed the decline to the downturn in the economy. School officials are hoping to set up more financial aid and scholarships for its students in order to increase enrollment next year.

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