Walk down the halls of Hillcrest or W.T. White high schools, and the scores of trophies and plaques tell you both student bodies have some impressive achievements to show for.

And now both of these neighborhood public schools have another big honor to add to their growing list of feats: Hillcrest High School and W.T. White High School were both named on Newsweek magazine’s 2006 list of “Top 1,300 High Schools in the U.S.”

Newsweek ranks public U.S. high schools every year based on a ratio: the number of advanced placement, or A.P., exams taken that year, divided by the number of graduating seniors at that school. Based on that equation, W.T. White ranked 131st in the nation and 14th in Texas. Hillcrest came in at 610th in the nation and 39th in Texas.

Both schools have made the list a few times in recent years, but W.T. White principal Joy Barnhart and Hillcrest principal Marty Crawford say it’s still quite an accomplishment to defend those spots.

Barnhart and Crawford credit devoted faculties for keeping their schools on Newsweek’s radar. More specifically, they say it’s thanks to teachers who first learn the best methods of teaching the A.P. curriculum, and then take the time to work with students one-on-one. And sometimes preparing a student for A.P. testing can be an exceptional challenge – many students at both schools start without a core curriculum foundation, so teachers have to go back and lay the basic groundwork, and then get them ready for A.P. testing.

“It takes a missionary zeal to teach a youngster with no pre-core knowledge of these subjects,” Barnhart says. “We have a large freshman immigrant population that comes in with no English, but we have them ready for A.P. classes by their junior year.”

Students who choose to take on the rigorous A.P. courses tend to be some of the most prepared students for post-secondary education and the workforce. That’s why Crawford says his school aims to recruit more and more students into the A.P. program every year.

“This is not the Hillcrest High School of 10 to 15 years ago. Look at what we are doing now: We are providing a great education experience for all kids, and we are recruiting more kids into these A.P. classes than ever. Our A.P. program is not a prima donna program. We want all of our kids exposed to the good stuff.”

Both principals also say the rankings speak volumes about the quality of educational programs run by the Dallas ISD – a school district with a less-than-perfect reputation.

“This reflects that all children can learn, and that you don’t have to be in the private sector to learn,” Barnhart says. “I think it shows that DISD can be competitive, and that we offer the same rigorous curriculum that the private and parochial schools can offer. We are an urban minority district, and these kids are having opportunities that many kids in the private sector are not even receiving.”

This was Barnhart’s last school year at W.T. White. She’s retiring so that she can care for her elderly parents. The new principal of W.T. White was still unnamed at press time, but Barnhart says whoever takes over, she’s confident the school will maintain its momentum.

“All of this success is nothing Joy Barnhart has done. It’s because of what this faculty has done,” she says. “The staff here is so wonderful, and even after I’m gone, I know they can keep on going and move right on to the top.”

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.