Santa Cruz's Pacific Collegiate School, a public charter school found in 1999, was ranked 7th in the nation in an annual US News & World Report study.
It was the top-ranked in Northern California in an assessment of college preparedness and test scores. Above it on the list were Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, VA, which was first in the country, followed by the International Academy, in Bloomfield Hills, MI, Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA, Oxford High School in Cypress, CA, The School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas, TX and Newcomers High School in Long Island City, NY.
The survey of 21,000 schools in 48 states looks at College Readiness, in which Pacific Collegiate had a perfect score of 100.
The magazine says this is how it ranks schools:
"A three-step process determined the best high schools. The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all their students well, using state proficiency standards as the benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work."
Test rankings are based on what is expected for average students in the state. They also consider performances by disadvantaged students, and finally AP classes and test scores.
Pacific, at 255 Swift St., also placed 7th for math and science study.
Although Pacific is a public school with 510 students, it asks for families to donate $3,000 a year for 20 percent of its funding. Entry to the school is by lottery and grades. Average class size is 21, with no class bigger than 27 students.
No other Santa Cruz County school was in the top 100. Schools in Cupertino, Mountain View, San Jose and Palo Alto were.
"We're more struck by the fact taht we are the number 1 charter school in the country and particularly struck by the fact that we placed 7th in math and science and we view ourselves as a liberal arts school," said principal Archie Douglas.
"The ranking doesn't change anything for us, but it's nice. It says a lot about the work of our staff."
What could other schools learn from Pacific's success?
"We think what we have is a replicable, old fashioned model," he said. "Hard work, hard work, hard work. We don't have a lot of frills, technology or special approaches."
Pacific students are required to take AP courses in biology, history and English and must also take classes in visual and performing arts. He said the school doesn't necessarily attract smart kids, but kids who are willing to work hard.
"They graduate from us as complete educated people," he said. "We've held pretty steady in our performance. It's like golf. You go out and give it your best score and if someone else comes along and they are better, they are better, but we aren't competing against other schools."