Joliet District 204 recognized for college readiness, achievement

Joliet Township High School District 204 Superintendent Dr. Cheryl McCarthy accepts the plaque recognizing the district as the College Board’s AP District of the Year. (Megann Horstead | For The Bugle)

Megann Horstead | For The Bugle

Joliet Township High School District 204 was recently named and presented with the AP District of the Year award by College Board.

This recognition intends to recognize the district for outstanding work in promoting college readiness and achievement for traditionally underrepresented student populations.

A number of civic and business community leaders were on hand to celebrate this occasion with the district’s students, faculty and staff during a Feb. 8 presentation at Joliet West High School.

The program included performances by the district’s band, a posting of colors by junior ROTC students, the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl McCarthy gave credit to the district for increasing the number of students participating in Advanced Placement classes exponentially, while at the same time increasing the percentage of students that receive 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s on the AP exam.

“All the educators realize this is the equivalent to the educational Super Bowl,” she said.

Board of Education president Jeff Pierson mirrored that sentiment.

“We’re no. 1 out of 10,000 schools,” said.

An AP class is designed to provide students with the curriculum presented in college-level courses while still enrolled in high school. This allows scholars to get a head start at earning credit hours toward their college education.

West campus principal Dr. Teresa Gibson recalled how greatly the AP program has expanded over the years to include the 18 courses offered today by the school district.

“When I began my teaching career at Joliet West in 1993—and I’ve taught some of your parents—there was one AP course on the book, AP U.S. History,” she said. “In ‘94-95 school year I was the one AP teacher at West who taught two sections of AP U.S. History. At the most, I had 55 students in those sections. That was three percent of the entire school population. Central that year only had one section, which meant that just over one percent of those students in 1995 took AP classes.”

Gibson said from 2009 to 2016, the district has increased the percentage of students taking at least one AP test by 142 percent. The school district is running 81 sections of Advanced Placement between West and Central campus this year, she said.

“Being here now and being recognized as AP District of the Year is one of many highlights of my career, and I’m so happy to be sharing it with you,” Gibson said.

West campus teacher Courtney Barrowman agreed.

“AP is no longer just a few classes a few kids take to do well on a test to hopefully get some college credit,” she said. “You have made it a program—whether you’ve taken one, two, eight AP classes. I think I speak for all of us on the other side of the classroom—the teachers, administrators, Mr. Mayor—we can’t help but beam with proud. I am honored to be a part of this national award, this District of the Year celebration. This is because of you; you earned this title; you are being recognized collectively for all the hard work you put in from the very, very beginning.”

Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the College Board’s AP program, said typically, the more students who are added to AP program means the score will go down.

But that’s not the case for Joliet Township High School District 204, he said.

“Over the past two years, 200 more of you have joined [the district’s] scores keep going up, not down,” Packer said. “That’s incredibly rare. Only three percent of high schools in the country see that.”

Central campus principal Shad Hallihan said he believes the number of students participating in AP classes says a lot about the students, and it’s clear that “you accept challenge, that you want to be pushed, that you’re excited about these opportunities and that when we give them, you take advantage of them.”

Central campus student Jonathan Ortiz said he’s pleased knowing he participated in the AP program.

“Without AP classes, my entire life would’ve followed a completely different pathway,” he said. “Taking AP classes opened so many doors beyond imaginable. It really became apparent when I started applying for college. I personally had subpar ACT scores for some of the colleges that I planned to apply to. But, eventually they saw my GPA [and AP credits], I was accepted to (University of Illinois) at Urbana-Champaign where I’ll be studying mechanical engineering in the fall.”

Barrowman refuted the idea that District 204 is being recognized merely based on geography. The real secret to their success is viewed in students’ ability to beam like scholars, she said.

“It’s the JT Advanced Placement way,” Barrowman said.

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