United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced today that Dr. J. Michael McGrath Elementary School, in the Newhall School District, has been named one of 255 National Blue Ribbon public schools.
A total of 304 public and private schools have been recognized. Only 21 schools in California were honored with this prestigious award this year and McGrath is the only school in Santa Clarita to be selected.
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“It’s very gratifying especially for the classroom teachers,” said McGrath Principal Larry Heath. “We have wonderful support staff here, wonderful people here at the site and at the district who have worked very hard. But all of us realize that the accomplishments we’re making are due exclusively to teachers at the school. They’ve made substantial changes in their practices and the way in which they have gone about teaching, they’ve adjusted to the needs of the students.
“I was just looking at the statistics the other day and in 2003- 2004, 38 percent of children were proficient in mathematics school-wide, and today, nearly 84 percent of the students are proficient or advanced in mathematics. Let me put it into perspective: 80 to 85 percent of my children receive free or reduced lunches every day; these are children coming out of poverty situations, multiple families in the same home. About 60 percent of the children, when they came to school, didn’t speak English. They’ve been able to overcome those barriers and the reason they have is because of the teaching staff here at the school.”
The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private schools that are either high performing or have improved student achievement to high levels, especially among disadvantaged students. The program is part of a larger Department of Education effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about best school leadership and teaching practices. Each year since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education has sought out schools where students attain and maintain high academic goals, including those that beat the odds.
To qualify for the Blue Ribbon McGrath had to repeatedly make “adequate yearly progress” with its disadvantaged student population, as defined by No Child Left Behind. By achieving steadily escalating state test scores over time and a steadily increasing Academic Performance Index, the school was first recognized as a State Distinguished School and a federal Title I Achieving School. Those awards qualified McGrath for the ultimate federal recognition and former State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell nominated McGrath for the award last year.
O’Connell’s successor, Tom Torlakson, passed along his kudos for a job well done.
“Congratulations to all 21 schools, and the students, teachers, school employees, administrators, and parents who worked hard to earn the title Blue Ribbon School,” Torlakson said. “Today’s awards are just one more sign of the dedication California’s educators have to improving opportunities for students, even in the face of painful budget cuts.”
The Blue Ribbon Schools Program (BRSP) is a U.S. Department of Education program. BRSP honors public and private schools from elementary through high schools, whose students achieve at very high levels or have made significant progress and helped close gaps in achievement, especially among disadvantaged and minority students.
Public schools are nominated by the Chief State School Officers, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education. All nominees must qualify as either:
1. High performing: Schools are measured by state tests in both English-language arts and mathematics, or assessments referenced against national norms; or
2. Improvement to high levels: Schools have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds and have improved student performance to high levels in English-language arts and mathematics on state assessments or assessments referenced against national norms. Disadvantaged means students eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, who receive Title I services, are limited English proficient, migrant, or in need of special services.
Blue Ribbon Schools are honored at a national awards ceremony in Washington, DC in the fall, where each winner receives a plaque and flag. Blue Ribbon winners may fly this flag at their schools as a mark of excellence and a symbol of quality. These schools serve as examples of excellence for other schools throughout the nation. Details of their achievements are shared on the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/index.html.
For more information on California’s past winners, please visit the California Department of Education’s Web site at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/sr/br/.