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New Jersey High School Challenges the Gifted

High Technology High School outperformed every other school in AP exam participation and success.

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The list of High Technology High School's achievements last year are staggering: fifth place in the National Science Bowl competition; four New Jersey state science fair winners; entries and semifinalists in science fairs sponsored by MIT, Intel, and Siemens; research awards from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps; 30 first-, second-, or third- place awards in the Jersey Shore Science Fair. And here's one more: the best-performing high school in math and science in the country, according to U.S.News & World Report's new rankings of Best High Schools for Math and Science.

"We call it competitive collaboration," Daniel Simon, the school's principal for the last 10 years, says. "The students push each other to do better." 

[Read about the rankings methodology for the Best High Schools for Math and Science.]

Simon will be the first to tell you that his school, located on Brookdale Community College's campus in Lincroft, N.J., about an hour south of New York City, starts on an uneven playing field. Just 3 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and the school isn't terribly diverse: 48 percent of the school's 283 students are white, 47 percent are Asian. Just seven students are African American or Hispanic. Its students come from about 50 feeder districts in Monmouth County, where 300 students each year compete for some 70 spots based on students' middle school grades and scores on an entrance exam. 

[Learn the latest national high school news in the High School Notes blog.] 

But while Simon and district superintendent Tim McCorkell recognize that their students are gifted, they says schools like High Tech are needed to challenge students this motivated. 

"The students have very strong skills before they come in the door," McCorkell says. "But do we think we enhance those? Absolutely." He says High Tech is a school that focuses on one thing and does it well. "Look at us as a restaurant, but we only serve one item on the menu." 

That item? Engineering. 

About 70 percent of High Tech graduates study engineering or a related field in college, and the school has the classes and connections to support them, with a state-of-the-art research lab that's always open. Its high ceilings, ventilation ducts, and warehouse-like feel house student projects ranging from green energy to cancer research. 

Nearly 100 percent of High Tech's students will graduate with AP credit; seniors take an average of four AP tests. Through a partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology, many students will earn college credits through their standard coursework. Others take classes at Brookdale in green energy, computer assisted design, or computer programming. 

[Learn why recent high school graduates regret their class selections.] 

"People say that it must be easy to do what we do here—and it is, because there's more motivation and fewer discipline problems than at a comprehensive high school," Simon says. "But then there's that other part—the great challenge to meet the needs of these kids. Sometimes they learn so quickly that it's scary. You begin to think 'Do they know more than I do as a professional?'" 

Students don't always arrive at the school that way. Freshman year can be shocking because many of them breezed through elementary and middle school. 

"We're not going to apologize for challenging them," says Michael T. Roche, who teaches the school's freshman and sophomore year advanced research and data analysis classes. His students spend time their first two years doing high-level research, with the hope that they'll continue as upperclassmen under the supervision of a professional mentor.

Many students complete internships and research with huge corporations, university labs, and nonprofit organizations to solve real-world problems. Senior Vivian Chang studied cancer cells at Monmouth University over the summer; Neil Rangwani is researching cell phone-tower technology. 

Students at the pre-engineering school averaged a 2149 out of 2400 on their SATs and every student moved on to a four-year college. But the school doesn't worry about students passing state tests—they're usually bright enough to pass them with little or no preparation.