As the school year at Uncommon Schools North Star Academy Washington Park High School was coming to a close, Head of School Michael Mann asked his students to vote on one senior who would be most likely to succeed.
Mann has asked that question of seniors for the last 10 years, and usually getting predictable responses. This year was different.
“Several students told me that this question was rude. Several students came to me very politely but firmly and told me that I should probably not ask that question in the first place,” Mann said during the Newark high school’s June 6 graduation ceremony in which 152 students graduated - the largest class ever and more than double the size of the class just two years ago.
One student told him, “Due to my faith in the entire senior class and my knowledge that we will all go on to do amazing things, I refuse to pinpoint one person that I believe will be successful. I wholeheartedly believe that we will all be successful and be the best versions of ourselves.”
Another student told him, “We should speak it into existence that everyone will succeed. There is no reason that we should bet on the success of one single individual since the goal is for everyone to succeed.”
Mann relayed the story to demonstrate how different North Star’s Class of 2019 was from previous classes.
Not only is it the largest class, but it also racked up some impressive accomplishments, including four graduates who are headed to Ivy League universities – Columbia University, Princeton University, Cornell University and Harvard University.
Nearly every student in the class is attending college in the fall. In addition to the Ivies, students are attending some of the nation’s most elite universities, including New York University, Swarthmore College, Vassar College, Wesleyan University, Boston University, Trinity College, Brandies College and Carnegie Mellon University.
When Mann asked the graduating seniors sitting on stage at the Prudential Hall in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center to raise their hand if they had taken an Advanced Placement course, nearly every hand shot up.
One student passed every single AP exam she took with a score of five, the highest score possible.
The accomplishments of North Star have been recognized nationally. U.S. News and World Report ranked the school number 15 in the state. Mann said the only non-selective schools ranked higher in the state were Princeton and Chatham high schools.
The Washington Post also ranked North Star the fifth most rigorous high school in New Jersey, behind three magnet schools and one private high school. North StarAcademy, which opened in 1997, serves predominantly low-income black and Hispanic students.
“This high result is due to the fact that a very high percentage of North Star students are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, which are the most rigorous courses that you can take in an American high school,” Mann said.
North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., who gave the commencement address, told the graduating seniors that they had received an exceptional education.
“For many high schools, a measure of success is many graduates move on to college,” Ramos said. “For North Star, the focus is how many graduate from college within a six period of completing their studies in their program.”
Indeed, nearly 80% of North Star graduates since 2013 have graduated or are on track to graduate from college in six years. That compares with fewer than 20% for low-income students of color nationally who ever graduate from college.
Ramos told the graduates that a life of service was the key to happiness.
“I ask you to continue to love and cherish your community and your city,” Ramos said. “Be a role model for those students at North Star that are following your footsteps. Take the opportunity to remain active in your neighborhood with your local churches, mosques and community-based organizations.”