Well, guess again. Times have certainly changed. So, perhaps, should that long-standing perception of simply being a vo-tech school. High Tech High School in North Bergen is seeing to that.
Although the school was established in 1991 as strictly an advanced academic high school, with an emphasis on college preparation, High Tech has existed in virtual anonymity, even in its own community.
It's perhaps Hudson County's best kept educational secret, although the word is getting out about the success of the school and its students.
Recently, New Jersey Monthly magazine listed High Tech among the Top 50 public high schools in New Jersey. It received the standing of being a Star High School by another educational ranking service.
"People are starting to know more and more about us," said Vince Nardiello, the director of guidance for the school, last week. "Ninety-five percent of our graduates last year went on to a four-year college. Three went to Ivy League schools. We're a legitimate academic high school that people are now starting to recognize. We're offering a private school education at public school prices."
What has helped High Tech receive recognition is the outstanding work the school's 125 students achieve in the classroom. Recently, Nardiello received word that last year's graduating class did exceptionally well on the Advanced Placement tests.
Almost 90 percent of the students who took the Advanced Placement exams last May scored a grade of three or higher (out of a possible score of five). Nearly 35 percent of the students received a perfect score of five, meaning that they were able to earn instant college credits wherever they enrolled.
"One of our students took seven AP tests and received so many high scores that he entered college with a sophomore status," Nardiello said.
The High Tech students did exceptionally well in two areas. Nearly 95 percent of the students taking the AP Chemistry exam scored three or higher, as opposed to the national average of 57 percent. And every single student who took the AP Spanish exam received a score of three or higher.
High Tech has been offering advanced placement courses in several subject areas, such as Chemistry, Calculus A & B, Biology, Computer Science, Spanish language and Spanish literature.
Spanish literature is the latest AP course to be offered at the school.
"So many of our students come here with a strong background in Spanish," Nardiello said. "We wanted to challenge them. If they can speak it and read it, then this class enables them to get in touch with their Spanish culture."
Many of these AP courses in the school are taught in addition to the general curriculum, which means that both the students and the teachers have to extend the school day in order to participate.
"We're very proud of what the teachers have been able to offer the students," Nardiello said. "The teachers work very hard in getting the students ready to take the exams. And the students know that if they do well in the exams that it leads directly to college credits. It's not every day that you would find students dedicated enough to want to stay after school to learn. How many kids do you know that would want to stay long after school to learn calculus. But it happens here."
Nardiello said approximately 40 percent of the advanced classes are taught after school hours. Advanced courses are also offered in theater design and the history of film, classes that are not required as part of the curriculum. "But the students are so interested that they take the classes anyway," Nardiello said.
Students from all over Hudson County attend High Tech. Nardiello said that the majority of the students come from north Hudson, like North Bergen, Union City and West New York, but that the entire county is represented. And it's not easy to receive acceptance to the school.
"We have over 900 applicants each year for 120 slots," Nardiello said. "It's almost like a high school student applying to Harvard. We can only take one out of every 10. We want to have the kids that really want to learn, that are committed to doing the necessary schoolwork."
The word is finally getting out about the success of High Tech's students.
"We're getting a bit of a reputation now," Nardiello said. "We've had representatives from Brown, Harvard and Princeton in to give presentations to our students, so the Ivy League schools know what we're doing. The word is also out in the grammar schools and the turnouts for our open houses have been excellent. So people are learning about us every day. It's just taken some time."