Distinctions indicate headway for Aurora students at William Smith


AURORA | The accolades just keep piling up for William Smith High School.

Once regarded as the runt of the Aurora Public Schools litter, William Smith was one of five schools in the country to earn a credential from EL (Expeditionary Learning) Education, an education-centric nonprofit organization, for meeting a rubric of achievement standards curated by the New York-based organization. Those standards include mastery of academic skills, bolstering character development and maintaining high-quality work, according to the EL website.

William Smith’s receipt of the EL Education credential comes about a month after the pilot school was one of eight schools in the country to be recognized as a Gold School of Opportunity by the National Education Policy Center.

William Smith Principal David Roll said that while the new credential and the Gold School of Opportunity award are unrelated, the recognition from two organizations is gratifying.

“What I think is pretty amazing is they are both recognizing high-performing, high-quality schools using the same criteria: the character piece, the construction of high quality work and recognizing 21st century skills,” he said. “It’s pretty unique, or amazing or even gratifying that these two different organizations are recognizing William Smith.”

Expeditionary Learning specifically touted the performance of William Smith students on state tests in both math and English, the school’s above-average retention and graduation rates, as well as the number of WSHS students who graduate with technical certifications. Nearly 70 percent of William Smith graduates leave the school with a technical certification and/or an associate’s degree, according to EL Education.

In 2012, the overall graduation rate at William Smith was about 30 points higher than the APS district average, according to the WSHS website. The graduation rate among minorities, specifically, was even higher.

“We’re at an important turning point in education where we’ve abandoned a narrow definition of student achievement and have embraced an understanding that achievement is multifaceted and can never be boiled down to a single metric,” Scott Hartl, CEO of EL Education, said in a statement. “Students deserve schools that develop their intellect and their character; that develop their strong habits of quality work and their habits of contribution to their communities; and provide them with both rigor and joy in learning.”

Ayman Aouinat, a senior at William Smith, confirmed those traits.

“I’ve loved going to school here,” he said. “It’s been such a great opportunity to meet so many ambitious people here and I’ve learned life skills … that will help me throughout my life and in higher education.”

William Smith now joins 27 other schools across the country that have received the official EL credential, according to the organization. While the designation doesn’t come with any additional resources or funding, the credential primarily acts as a marketing tool for the school, according to Jon Mann, EL’s regional director for the Rocky Mountain region.

“As a pilot school, (William Smith) is drawing kids from all over the district,” he said. “This (credential) is how they show their success.”

The school has been a part of the Expeditionary Learning network since 2006 and was deemed an EL Mentor School in the 2011-12 school year. The network provides the school with a slew of professional development resources.