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Jacksonville Elementary is one of 10 Maryland schools to be named a National Blue Ribbon School

Jacksonville Elementary School Principal Debbie Miller, left, and Assistant Principal Marlana Mathis pose in front of the school, which recently was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Jacksonville Elementary School Principal Debbie Miller, left, and Assistant Principal Marlana Mathis pose in front of the school, which recently was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

These are challenging times for schools dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. But for Jacksonville Elementary School in Phoenix, there’s also some time for celebrating.

Jacksonville Elementary was one of 10 schools across the state to be named a prestigious National Blue Ribbon School for academic excellence.

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The honor, which is awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, recognized 367 private and public elementary, middle and high schools across the country for their overall academic performance.

Those honored in Maryland were Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson; Cash Valley Elementary School in Allegany County; Hampstead Elementary School in Carroll County; Mount View Middle School in Howard County; Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Lucy V. Barnsley Elementary School, Our Lady of Mercy School and Saint Peter’s School in Montgomery County, and Bayside Elementary School in Queen Anne’s County.

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Darla Strouse, executive director at the Maryland State Department of Education, is involved in the selection process for the Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

Last year, Jacksonville Elementary was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School by the MSDE and has now met the requirements to be named a National Blue Ribbon School.

Strouse said the school has exceeded expectations when it comes to math and reading and is in the 95th percentile for attendance.

In 2019, 538 students were enrolled in the school, which in 2019 ranked better in performance than 99.2% of elementary schools in Maryland and second among 107 elementary schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools district, according to SchoolDigger.com, which ranks schools nationwide.

Strouse said the school has done a great deal in furthering service learning and reaching out to the community. Families, staff and students collect beans and bread once a month to distribute to homeless adults in Baltimore City and have a food pantry at the school where families can come and shop.

“[We take] an eclectic look at the school and how it functions and what it offers to students and families, and Jacksonville is top of the line,” she said.

Debbie Miller, principal of Jacksonville Elementary, said it is a privilege for the school to be recognized.

“This is the ultimate award for the hard work we do with students every single day,” she said.

To ensure students are receiving a quality education, the school offers advanced academics and extension activities for students who excel in math and reading and provides additional assistance to students who may need help, she said.

Since the pandemic, she said the school has tried to follow the same structure online as it did in person.

To engage students, the school offers a “supply pickup,” where parents can obtain hands-on materials like books so students can turn the pages while reading.

“We are always kind of forward thinking for what materials we need for math and reading,” Miller said.

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Karla Lee, a physical education teacher, has taught at the school since it opened in 1994.

Since receiving the Blue Ribbon honor, the community and former staff members have reached out to those at the school to share in their achievement, she said.

“This is a collective sense of accomplishment, whether you are a current or former teacher,” Lee said. “To finally make it to the national [level] is a great sense of pride and accomplishment, for sure.”

She said a key to their success is the fact that the staff members are always trying to figure out ways to stay current to teach students.

“A student today is much different than when the school opened,” Lee said. “Times have changed and [the staff] has changed with the times and has thought out teaching techniques that work with all students.”

Although techniques may change, she said teachers must continue to build relationships with students that enable them to succeed.

“Communicating with students that you care deeply about them as individuals as well as how they learn opens up the pathway for learning,” Lee said. “We help students see their strengths and guide them to identify what they need to do in order to reach their goals.”

Jennifer Franklin, a kindergarten teacher at Jacksonville Elementary, is also a parent of a fifth-grader there.

She said she reminds her daughter that the Blue Ribbon honor is a result of her hard work as a student.

“[The honor] trickles down to [the] boys and girls, and students feel proud,” she said.

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