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15 local schools among Newsweek's best in nation

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Fifteen Gwinnett schools have made Newsweek's America's Best High Schools list.

Each year, Newsweek picks the best high schools in the country based on how hard schools work to challenge students with advanced placement college-level courses and tests. Just more than 1,600 schools -- only 6 percent of all the public schools in the United States -- made the list.

The 15 high schools are Berkmar, Buford, Brookwood, Central Gwinnett, Collins Hill, Dacula, Duluth, Grayson, Meadowcreek, Mill Creek, Norcross, North Gwinnett, Parkview, Peachtree Ridge and Shiloh.

Coming in at No. 186 -- first in Gwinnett and third in the state of Georgia -- was North Gwinnett High School. The next Gwinnett school on the list was Berkmar High at No. 240.

"It's always a pleasure to have our students and staff recognized for their hard work and performance," Berkmar High School principal Ken Johnson said. "I'm proud of what our teachers have done once again."

Berkmar High was recognized in 2008 with the College Board's Inspiration Award for its commitment to developing the academic talents of its students. For six years, the school has had a "stretch performance initiative" in place to encourage students to take more rigorous courses, Johnson said.

"The bottom line for us is we have a lot of students that don't quite realize they can do that level of coursework," he said.

By exposing them to the challenging curriculum and pairing them with quality, effective teachers, "our kids discover they can do very, very well," Johnson said.

Berkmar's not the only high school encouraging students to take more challenging classes.

"We worked hard to encourage students to take more advanced courses, more rigorous courses, and it paid off," said Gwen Tatum, the principal of Shiloh High School.

This was Shiloh's first year on the list, and Tatum said she was "pleasantly surprised" when she received the news that her school had made the cut.

"(Academic) rigor ... prepares (students) for college and certainly gives them an edge," Tatum said.

Graduates who have visited the school have said taking the advanced courses helped them feel more prepared for college work, she said.

"They've said the challenge and rigor they felt in high school was pretty comparable to college, and (college) was not as big of a challenge as it could have been," she said.

Meadowcreek High School also made Newsweek's list for the first time.

"We are ecstatic that our teacher and students are receiving national recognition for the fine work that they are all doing at Meadowcreek High School with respect to taking more rigorous and challenging coursework," Meadowcreek High School principal Bob Jackson said. "We are equally as proud of our neighboring schools in Gwinnett County that also made the Newsweek list."