The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone was ranked the second best high school in the United States in an annual assessment of more than 17,000 schools by U.S. News and World Report.

The magazine’s rankings, published Tuesday, used a new, simplified methodology that weighed several criteria for what the authors say is a holistic approach to ranking, and also allowed the publication to greatly expand the number of schools included in the evaluation.

But variability in the survey’s methodology means that each year, some schools are excluded entirely, including MSSM, which wasn’t in the rankings two of the last four years. In 2016, the school was excluded for a technicality, but it went on in 2017 to place 19th in the nation. In 2018, the school was once again excluded, but nearly topped the chart this year.

For Alan Whittemore, dean of enrollment at the school, the annual release of the ranking, which occurred at midnight Monday, comes with mixed emotions. Whittemore said school staff has no participation in the ranking process, so learning where on the list it falls – or if it is ranked at all – is a nerve-wracking experience.

“To wake up to No. 2 in the nation exceeded any and all of our expectations,” Whittemore said Tuesday evening. “We feel for our faculty, our students, our staff, that it is vindication for all of the hard work that happens as a daily routine up here.”

Junior Jay Philbrick may have been among the first students to learn of the ranking. Philbrick said he returned to campus about 1 a.m. with his teammates on the science bowl team, which had come back from the national competition in Washington, D.C.

“It definitely feels vindicating,” said Philbrick, 16, of North Yarmouth. “That is the biggest dose of self-assurance that we’ve gotten. And I think it speaks to the rigor of this place. I think its very significant in providing a sense that we’re here for a reason and we’re truly seeing that it’s successful for the state of Maine.”

This year, analysts with the magazine focused on college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, college curriculum breadth and graduation rates, the magazine said. The new criteria expanded the eligible schools from 2,700 in 2018 to 17,000 ranked schools this year.

MSSM tied for first place for college readiness, math and reading proficiency, and math and reading performance. The top-ranked school overall was Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, South Carolina.

MSSM’s curriculum focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, and all students live on campus in dormitories. The school was chartered and funded by the Legislature in 1994 after the closure of Loring Air Force Base. To be admitted, students submit transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation and submit standardized test scores.

Maine residents pay only room and board, which totaled $9,300 this year. For non-residents, the price is far steeper. Tuition, room and board, and a host-family fee cost $48,600 for the 2018-2019 academic year, and all students must be invited back to continue their studies after each semester.

 

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