Ask any student or faculty member why Boulder City High School was ranked as one of the top 10 schools in the state and one response consistently comes up: community.
Boulder City was ranked ninth in the state by U.S. News &World Report’s list of best high schools earlier this month.
It was rated the best comprehensive school. Comprehensive is a term given to public schools that are not specialty-specific magnet schools.
Molly Spurlock, who teaches Advanced Placement and freshman honors English, said the success of the school is because of the small and close-knit community that Boulder City fosters.
“Boulder City is a small town,” Spurlock said. “That small town feel lets us really connect with our students. We know them on a personal level so we can work with them on an individual basis.”
The connection between students and faculty is backed up by the numbers. According to U.S. News, the school has a graduation rate of 90 percent and a college readiness index of 31 — 14 points higher than the Clark County average of 17.
The ranking was based on the school’s ability to prepare students for college and career, using graduation rates as a major factor in its methodology, as well as student demographics, test scores and participation on college-level exams.
“This is a community school,” counselor Rebecca Balistere said. “A student cannot be invisible here. We know what our students need and I think that is why we are ranked so high.”
The small-town intimacy at the school is felt throughout the classrooms and hallways. Students are not afraid to ask questions and give answers, even if those answers are wrong.
Teachers teach to an attentive room because students admire and respect their instructors.
As Spurlock reviews her class’s most recent batch of essays, her critiques are tough but fair.
“I see a lot of improvement but you need more sourcing,” Spurlock said giving the student a 7 or the AP equivalent of a B. The student smiles, happy to see his improvement in a tough English class.
Spurlock said she pushes her students because she knows them and believes they will step up to the challenge every time.
“I have high standards because I know how intelligent they are,” she said. “Pushing them to be their best is the highest form of respect a teacher can give a student.”
In a small school like Boulder City the students and teachers are not strangers; many have known each other for years. Often the teachers have taught the same students before.
Junior Cierra Wachter went through the meat grinder that is Spurlock’s freshman English class. Wachter credits her success in AP English to Spurlock’s high teaching standards.
“No one has pushed me harder than Mrs. Spurlock,” Wachter said. “She has been my teacher twice and I am a better writer for it.”
Wachter doesn’t just give credit to her English teacher; she said she knows all of her teachers on a personal level.
“So many teachers here take the time to get to know you and teach you,” she said. “Whenever I needed help after class my teachers were there. I think it is the small personal feel of our school that makes it so great.”
The faculty at Boulder City is ingrained in the school’s history. Spurlock has taught here for her entire 22-year career. Algebra teacher Bill Strachan has taught here for 32 years and was part of the graduating class of 1978.
“I have been here so long I have teachers here that were once my students,” Strachan said with a laugh. “We just have a closeness here.”
That closeness can be felt in Strachan’s Algebra II class. The students are learning how to graph functions. Strachan goes through each step of the equation, lightening the mood with a math joke and challenging students to solve word problems relating to functions.
Strachan is fond of word problems; he said they help students link difficult and tedious math to the outside world.
“Every time we cover a new subject kids always ask, ‘When am I going to use this?’ ” Spurlock said. “Because we know our students so well they are not afraid to ask that question and we are able to show them the relationship between something we are learning and the real world.”
The small-town-school approach has done wonders for junior Canyon Deml, who moved to Boulder City High from a big school in Utah.
“My old school was pretty big and teachers never had time for me,” Deml said. “But here teachers challenge me and they are always there when I need extra help.”
In their many years at Boulder City High School, Spurlock and Strachan have seen many students come and go, but the school’s high standards stay constant. The two couldn’t imagine teaching anywhere else.
Contact Reporter Max Lancaster @bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow him on Twitter @MLancasterBCR