Bobcats Rule 

You can assume that there has been a lot of high-fiving and fist-bumping this week at Boca Raton High School.

Not only did Boca rank 22nd nationally in the new list of the nation’s most challenging high schools, as compiled by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post and released Monday, Boca ranked far ahead of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, which came in at 69th.

Though administrators and teachers rarely acknowledge it publicly, there has long been resentment of Dreyfoos in Palm Beach County. Though many schools have magnet programs—specialty courses designed to attract students from outside the school’s boundary— Dreyfoos is the only magnet high school, just as Bak Middle School of the Arts is the only magnet middle school. Both draw from everywhere in the county, with admission determined by audition and lottery.

Lottery aside, students don’t get into Dreyfoos unless they have dedicated, involved parents. Children of such parents do better in school. So when Dreyfoos students regularly win awards and the school gets its annual ‘A’ from the state, staff members at schools that must deal with students of uninvolved parents basically gripe, “Yeah, and how well would you do if Dreyfoos were more like a normal school?” That may be unfair to the students and teachers at Dreyfoos, but that’s how it is.

So for Boca High to rank so much higher than Dreyfoos must please the Boca staff in so many ways. While the Post ranked Suncoast High in Riviera Beach eighth nationally—the highest ranking for any Palm Beach County—Suncoast has just half as many students:1,500 compared to the 3,000 at Boca, and long has offered the demanding International Baccalaureate program. Consider that the Post ranking includes 2,000 schools, or just 10 percent of all high schools in the country.

Obviously, rankings are selective. Mathews doesn’t consider GPA or where students go to college. But more and more colleges are looking not just as grades but at how students got their GPA—in easy courses or tough courses. Mathews adds the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certification of Education tests given at a school in 2013 and divides by the number of graduates. His goal is to find how much schools challenge their students.

Why do such rankings matter for all of Boca Raton? The city, like all cities in South Florida, wants to attract business, whether established or start-up. A key issue for business owners is a city’s education system. The State Department of Education rankings, based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, don’t mean much in terms of substance. As noted, schools in more affluent areas with more involved parents tend to do better. Big surprise. Still, every public school in Boca Raton is rated ‘A.’ Now the city also can say that Boca High ranks very high nationally in a category that does have some substance. Spanish River, the other high school within the city limits, is ranked 360th. Not too shabby.

These rankings also suggest that private charter schools are unlikely to build schools on spec within Boca Raton, hoping to attract parents dissatisfied with traditional public schools. More likely, Boca might try to become its own charter district—as the Broward County city of Pembroke Pines did—with the idea of keeping more property tax money for schools in the city.

For now, though, all credit to Boca High Principal Geoff McKee and all the teachers and staff. Because the school is the largest of all the top eight in the Post survey, one could make the case for Boca High being No. 1.

Well-being, Part II

On Tuesday, we discussed a Gallup-Healthways survey of how Americans in general and South Floridians in particular feel about themselves and where they live. The state ranking of 30th was hardly impressive. A study released this week may help to explain why.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, checked in with its latest report on how the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are doing since the Great Recession. Boca Raton likes to think of itself as separate from its metro area—Miami to St. Lucie County—and to a degree the city is right. But if Boca is recovering better than other areas in South Florida, the city still can’t separate itself from reality.

Measured by the degree of overall recovery from the recession, Brookings calculates that South Florida ranks just 88th out of those 100 large metro areas. In terms of jobs gained back, South Florida is 69th. And we rank 90th in recovery of housing prices, despite recent gains. One reason, of course, is that South Florida prices got so unrealistically high during the real estate bubble.

As for Boca Raton, the city’s tax base increased from $20.7 billion in 2010 to $21.7 billion in 2013. (The final numbers for 2014 will be available July 1 and will show another rise.) That increase of 4.8 percent, however, was less than Delray Beach’s gain of 7.5 percent over the same period.

New city manager “caves”

The big short-term story in Delray Beach was the new city commission’s decision last Tuesday to cancel the lame-duck commission’s irresponsible deal with the developers of low-income house project Auburn Trace.

The big long-term story in Delray Beach is that, in cancelling the deal, the commission basically held a no-confidence vote on city manager Louie Chapman.

Chapman added the Auburn Trace deal to the March 18 agenda just one day before the meeting, and late in the afternoon. Mayor Cary Glickstein had asked Chapman not to schedule that item until he could be present. Glickstein and Commissioner Shelly Petrolia were on spring break with their children. The interim city attorney also was absent.

Items can be added late to an agenda, but Delray Beach has rules for doing so. New commissioner Jordana Jarjura read from a multi-count indictment of Chapman’s decision to schedule the item, a decision she said amounted to “gross deviations” from city rules. Glickstein and Petrolia clearly agreed. Glickstein referred to a “hijacked agenda” that was “deplorable” and represented a “low-water mark.”

Glickstein said he called Chapman to ask why the Auburn Trace item had been added. According to Glickstein, Chapman said, “I caved.” Glickstein then wondered if such a remark amounted to a “fireable offense.”

A previous commission hired Chapman last year to succeed David Harden, who had been Delray’s manager for more than two decades. The new commission will evaluate Chapman next month. He has no reason to feel confident.

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.