Two Baltimore-area schools, Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Baltimore County and Linthicum Elementary in Anne Arundel County, were among the six named state Blue Ribbon winners on Wednesday.
The designation, which is given by the state Department of Education to the highest-performing schools as well as those with a high percentage of minority and disadvantaged students who beat the odds and perform well, carries significant prestige. The six schools can now apply to become National Blue Ribbon Schools.
The four other schools in the state to receive the award were Frost Elementary in Allegany County, Northern Garrett High in Garrett County, Cashell Elementary in Montgomery County and Robert Goddard French Immersion Elementary/Middle in Prince George's County.
"You are the schools that go against the grain," Maryland state school Superintendent Lillian Lowery said. The schools, she said, ensure that children's socio-economic backgrounds do not determine how well they do in the classroom.
At Linthicum Elementary, there is no achievement gap between students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals and those who don't. More than 95 percent of students passed the Maryland School Assessments in reading and math, and more than half scored advanced.
Linthicum Principal Fran Nussle credited "the dedication of my staff." She said staff members have built strong relationships with children and are constantly looking at how to improve instruction.
Linthicum Elementary School is the 16th school in Anne Arundel County to receive the designation.
Western School of Technology is a magnet school near Catonsville with an economically and culturally diverse student body, high attendance and high pass rates on the High School Assessments.
"I think the key has been high expectations and a team effort," said Principal Murray Parker.
The number of students who take Advanced Placement classes and the pass rates on the AP exams have increased over the past several years.
"I think AP has been our big driver, and I believe it has given us a way to reach out to kids," he said.
The school also has focused on giving students meaningful internships to prepare them for careers after high school.
Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance said the school ranks among the top 7 percent of high schools in the country based on rankings in news magazines.
"You have a student, staff and parent community that believes in an 'all-in' and 'no excuses' educational environment," Dance said.
The announcement, made at the state department's headquarters in downtown Baltimore, was intended to be a surprise to those principals and school administrators who had been asked to come to the ceremony. But word had leaked to leaders at a few of the winning schools.
Since the program began in 1982, 144 Maryland schools have gone on to receive the National Blue Ribbons School award. The national award is more difficult to earn than the Maryland award.