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3 WNY SCHOOLS MAKE LIST OF NATION'S TOP 100

Because of students like Kate Gentry and Adam Oppenheimer, Amherst, Williamsville and Lewiston-Porter have earned slots on Newsweek magazine's ranking of the top 100 public high schools in the nation.

The survey says graduating seniors at Amherst Central High School, on average, take nearly 1.7 college-level Advanced Placement exams. That's the 48th highest percentage among public high schools in the nation and the top figure in Western New York.

Williamsville South High School was 63rd nationally with an average of more than 1.5 exams per student, and Lewiston-Porter Senior High School was 82nd with just less than 1.4.

The survey is designed to spotlight student initiative and school efforts to encourage high performance.

Kate Gentry, an Amherst senior, is doing her part by tackling five Advanced Placement courses after taking two AP exams last year. In addition, she participates in two choral groups, the operetta and the track team.

"It has been stressful, but I'd have to say I'm managing," said Kate, who plans to be a marine biologist. "I wanted the challenge."

Six schools from New York State made the Top 10 including Wheatley School in Old Westbury, which was first with nearly 2.9 AP exams per student. The state also had 31 of the top 100 scores.

Adam Oppenheimer, captain of Amherst Central's football and lacrosse teams, said he took five AP courses -- which are based on nationally designed college-level material -- to beef up his college application and to prepare himself for the academic challenges that lie ahead.

In addition, Adam expects to receive credit for several of the AP courses from Yale University, which he will attend in the fall.

But you don't have to be Ivy League-bound to load up with AP courses in Amherst.

Students there are regularly urged to challenge themselves and stretch their limits, both Adam and Kate said.

"This is a school that focuses a lot on motivation," said Paul T. Wietig, the district's director of curriculum and staff development. "Our message is: Don't downsize -- upsize."

Amherst offers AP courses in 13 subjects: French, Spanish, Latin, English literature, biology, physics, chemistry, math-calculus, government, economics, European history, American history and studio art.

Jay Mathews, a Washington Post reporter who devised the survey while researching a recent book on public high schools, said many schools encourage only their top students to tackle AP courses or require teacher recommendations or high scores on qualifying tests.

He estimates that 25,000 students are told each year that they can't take AP courses and that many more capable pupils don't take them because they are not encouraged to do so.

In contrast, both Williamsville South and Lewiston-Porter stress the value of taking AP courses, even if students don't ace the exams.

"The fact is, at least they're in there giving it a shot," said Wesley Pickreign, principal at Williamsville South, which offers AP courses in 12 subjects.

"We want our students to know that if they're willing to do the work, they can succeed," said Roberta Love, principal at Lewiston-Porter, which has open enrollment for AP courses.

The survey scores were arrived at by dividing the number of AP exams taken at a school in 1996 by the number of graduating seniors.

City Honors and Hutchinson-Central Technical High School in Buffalo along with other schools that select more than half their students through exams or other academic criteria were not included in the rankings.

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