As 1,051 seniors prepare to graduate from Olentangy, Liberty and Orange high schools, they can be confident their diplomas carry some cachet.
The district received high marks recently from U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Post, which ranked the best and toughest high schools in the state.
Liberty, Olentangy and Orange high schools were ranked the fifth-, seventh- and ninth-best high schools in Ohio, respectively, in U.S. News and World Report's 2014 Best High School Rankings. The rankings were based on students' performances on Advanced Placement and Ohio Graduation tests.
Orange, Liberty and Olentangy were ranked the sixth-, eighth- and 15th-most academically challenging schools in the state, respectively, on The Washington Post's list of America's Most Challenging High Schools. The annual rankings are largely based on the percentage of the schools' students who take and pass college-level tests.
Olentangy Superintendent Wade Lucas said district officials don't view making the lists as a top goal. Rather, he sees the rankings as a byproduct of the district's efforts at providing a high-quality education to each student.
"Now I think it's somewhat engrained in our culture," he said. "It's an expectation."
The seniors at the high schools ranked among the best and toughest in the state will graduate May 17 at the Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave. in Columbus. Liberty's ceremony will begin at 10 a.m., followed by Orange's ceremony at 2 p.m. Olentangy seniors will graduate at 6 p.m.
The district has asked those who plan to attend the graduation ceremonies or rehearsals to use Exit 111 on Interstate 71 to avoid traffic heading to the Rock on the Range festival at Crew Stadium.
District officials said early this week that more-detailed schedules and a list of speakers for each ceremony still were being finalized.
Lucas said while the district's achievements are worth celebrating, it's the students' accomplishments that will take center stage at graduation.
"What amazes us about every new class that comes through is we're very fortunate to have so many talented students," Lucas said.
Of the three high schools, Liberty has the largest class, with 403 students expected to graduate. Treasa O'Tighearnaigh will be the school's valedictorian.
At Orange, 332 seniors are expected to graduate. Ramandeep Vilkhu, Dennis Vroom and Luolei Zhao will be the school's valedictorians.
At Olentangy High School, 316 seniors are expected to graduate. Isaac Shetler and John Wildenthal will serve as valedictorians.
Lucas said it's important to remember not just the academic achievements of the class of 2014's students, but also their artistic and athletic accomplishments.
Although graduation ends the high school careers of more than a thousand Olentangy students, it doesn't end the district's interest in those students.
Lucas said, as in past years, the district will track the progress of its graduates who attend college. He said the numbers for the district's graduates have trended up in recent years.
"We're sending more kids to college, more kids are finishing in four years and more kids are finishing altogether," he said.
Lucas said he expected the class of 2014 to continue those trends.
Olentangy's class of 2014 saw many changes throughout their educational journeys, from the increased use of laptop and tablet computers to a heightened focus on project- and team-based learning.
Lucas said he thinks the time the class spent in Olentangy schools prepared them to compete in a global economy.
"We're not just competing with the central Ohio region. We're competing at a world level," Lucas said. "I would take our kids and put them up against any country in the world."