WINTHROP — Two years after it was named a top school by U.S. News and World Report, Winthrop High School has attracted the attention of another national publication that says it is one of the best in the nation when it comes to preparing students for college.

Newsweek magazine last week named Winthrop High School the 331st-best school in the nation at preparing students to enter college. Winthrop is one of just four schools in Maine to make Newsweek’s list of the top 500, which was released last week.

The recognition was the latest Winthrop High School has received in recent years. The school in 2012 was named the 13th-best high school in Maine by U.S. News & World Report, according to a Kennebec Journal report. Winthrop was one of just 28 high schools, out of 153 in the state, to earn a B or higher on the Maine Department of Education’s 2014 report card, which evaluates every school in the state.

“I think we’ve always been a good school,” said social studies teacher Dave Poulin, who has taught at Winthrop High School for 42 years. “I think we’re becoming a great school.”

Newsweek teamed up with researchers at Westat to develop a multi-pronged approach to developing a master list of the nation’s top schools.

Schools had to score in the 80th percentile or above in their respective states even to be considered. Researchers then created a college readiness score that is based on enrollment and graduation rates, number of advanced placement offerings and SAT scores. The researchers also looked at the dropout rate and counselor-to-student ratio.

Newsweek ranks Winthrop as the 331st-best high school in the nation and third-best in the state of Maine. The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone is the top-ranked Maine school, and 11th in the nation, followed by Greely High School in Cumberland, which is ranked as the 97th-best school nationally. Yarmouth High school, ranked 389th in the nation, is the only other Maine school to make the list.


The state Department of Education’s A-to-F grading system for schools shows a strong correlation between low or failing grades and the percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty, according to researchers at the University of Southern Maine.

Among the Maine schools selected by Newsweek, Greely’s poverty rate of 2.43 percent, and York’s 1.95 percent, are about half of Winthrop’s 4.78 percent. The Maine School of Science and Mathematics, which has an 8.33 percent poverty rate, is not a traditional public high school. It accepts students from across the state who make it through the admission process.

Despite the community’s financial constraints, Principal Keith Morin says Winthrop High School, though ranked in Class C athletics because of its size, is able to provide “Class A offerings” to keep students engaged and learning.

For example, Morin said the school has undergone significant technology upgrades in recent years. Part of that has been a commitment to ensuring every student has a laptop, which has helped advance educational objectives.

“The teaching technology that staff have taken upon themselves has moved us to the forefront of using that as a tool rather than a word processor,” Morin said.


But there are a number of opportunities beyond technology. Guidance counselor Kim Radley said the school offers a slate of advanced placement classes as well as opportunities for a diversity of interests, such as video production classes, advanced drama — the school has a full-time drama teacher — and a full offering of wood and metal industrial arts that all students are encouraged to take.

“We offer a lot that you wouldn’t expect us to offer,” Radley said. “There are so many things they can be involved in and feel like they’re part of their education.”

Winthrop not only has a Latin club, but one with 75 students, which represents about 30 percent of the entire student body of roughly 230 teens. About 70 percent of the students are involved in at least one extracurricular activity, Morin said. Combine that with students involved in co-curricular activities, such as video production, and the numbers are even greater.

“That’s why kids like coming here, because they like being involved in these things,” Poulin said.

Morin said Winthrop’s excellence is built, in part at least, on a foundation laid in the students’ early years. Earlier this year, Winthrop Grade School was one of two nominees from Maine for a federal Blue Ribbon School award, which recognizes schools where students perform at very high levels. Winthrop Middle School, meanwhile, has excelled on Northwest Evaluation Association’s tests, which measure academic progress. Morin said all three schools work to instill in the students the core values of compassion, respect, responsibility, cooperation and integrity.

“Those have been connected to a variety of experiences, K through 12,” Morin said. “Over time it all builds. Kids know what those are and they know what those mean.”


The students must put those characteristics into practice to graduate. Every student is required to do 60 hours of community service during his or her four high school years; and the school has two days, the Day of Caring and Make a Difference Day, during which classes work as a group in the community. The days, planned by the students, offer the community a chance to see the students outside of school and doing something that will benefit others.

“It portrays them in a different light than a lot of teenagers are painted,” Radley said.

That involvement goes beyond just the two days and even the 60 hours of community service, senior Matt Sekerak said. Basketball and soccer players, for example, are expected to work with youth programs. The players get a chance to know the youth program children and their parents. Those connections can last well beyond the sport’s season.

“They get to know you not only as a teenager or student, but as a mentor to their child,” Sekerak said. “It’s almost like a big brother feeling.”

Poulin said the community connections and commitment to character help create a student body that is both engaged and respectful.

“It’s a school where the students are highly involved and highly motivated,” he said. “That’s what makes a good school, the involvement the kids have. I would have been gone a long time ago, but those kids are great.”


The involvement extends inside the classrooms, as well. Sekerak, for example, is taking advanced placement English, calculus and history in addition to playing a sport in all three seasons. The school’s academic requirements for participating in athletics helps motivate students to stay focused on their studies, Sekerak said.

“It’s such a sports-driven school it makes you want to do well,” he said.

The amount of student participation in sports and clubs caught Sekerak’s attention his freshman year and caused him to want to be involved as well. It felt natural, he said, to become involved in any program the school offered.

“It just made me want to join,” he said. “It’s so comfortable. There’s no pressure.”

Sekerak said the interaction between the students and teachers is comfortable, caring and friendly.

“They’re not just my teachers,” he said.

Morin said the school has a healthy crop of young, enthusiastic teachers who can learn from committed veterans such as Poulin. There are hundreds of years of combined experience, Morin said.

“Those veteran teachers are still at the top of their game,” he said. “You want a Dave Poulin in the room.”

Poulin said Morin, who has been with the school for seven years, the last three as principal, has helped create a similar atmosphere for teachers. They want to excel.

“We have fun together,” Radley said.

Morin said students and staff members want to be at the school, which has become a draw for quality teachers looking for a good school at which to ply their trade.

“You can share in an interview how great the students and the staff are, but you don’t really get a sense of it until you’re here,” Morin said.

As the awards and recognition pile up, the outside world is taking notice. Morin said the number of superintendent agreements, which allow students from outside the district to attend school in Winthrop with the agreement of both superintendents, has increased in recent years. Radley, too, hears increasingly about families moving to Winthrop to take advantage of the schools.

“Kids in high school will convince their parents to change apartments so they can go to school here,” Radley said.

Morin said the recognition, from Newsweek and elsewhere, is evidence that his school at least is moving in the right direction.

“It drives home the point of why we’re proud of our kids and our staff,” he said. “At some point you have to sit back and realize you aren’t wrong. This has to be some kind of reality.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

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Twitter: @CraigCrosby4