Earlier this month Niche.com released its ranking of top public high schools in the country across eight different categories, including academics, safety, facilities, extracurricular activities, along with parent and student survey responses.

Watchdog.org New Mexico’s Rob Nikolewski did his own distinct analysis of ranked schools in his state and identified several beat-the-odds schools that were top contenders. It’s typically assumed that for schools to do well they need to be lavishly funded and enroll students from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. Nikolewski shows that’s not the case:

While schools in some of the most affluent areas of the state finished high, a sizable number of schools from more modest communities finished in the upper echelon in the rankings compiled by Niche.com. …

New Mexico Watchdog took the Niche.com ratings a step further, linking the top-performing schools to the median household income numbers in the cities where the schools were located.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in New Mexicobetween 2008-2012 was $48,886. The median household income in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, is just under the state median of $47,399.

Even if you toss out Albuquerque, seven of the state’s top 18 schools in Niche.com’s high school rankings had household income numbers below the state’s median.

High schools in Texico, Cimarron, Clayton and Socorro each finished in the top 16 despite having median household income below $35,000 a year…

The (multi) million dollar question, of course, is how are these schools succeeding? According to Texico Municipal Schools Superintendent Miles Mitchell:

“We have a lot of one-on-one interaction,” he said.

Also, Mitchell estimated about 70 percent of Texico High School students take part in extracurricular activities — not just participating in sports, but also enrolling students in vocational classes — with the idea that an engaged student is more likely to become a successful student.

“We’re not in an area where there’s a lot to do,” said Mitchell, who grew up in small town Melrose, N.M. “We’re not in Albuquerque. There’s no Cliff’s amusement park or a lot of activities for kids in this area outside of school. So we try to keep to that as a focus … It’s a priority the district set a long time ago and we use that as a driving force to keep high expectations for academics.”

Congratulations to the students, parents, teachers, and school officials of Texico, which as Nikolewski explains, “finished with the third-best rating for public middle schools, sixth-best in public high schools and No. 15 among all the public elementary schools in the state.”