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West Towson principal calls Blue Ribbon designation well-earned

West Towson principal calls Blue Ribbon designation well-earned
West Towson Elementary School staff pose with Interim Superintendent Verletta White, right. From left are reading specialist Melissa Wachs; teachers Jennifer Berlinger and Gretchen Steffen; principal Sue Hershfeld, and teacher Alice March. (Courtesy Photo)

West Towson Elementary School became the latest Towson-area school to be named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School Tuesday for its high performance on statewide assessments.

Despite being honored by the title, though, principal Sue Hershfeld said earning the distinction is an expected outcome of the school’s teaching methods.

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The state and national program recognizes and honors high performance as well as significant academic progress. Twenty-four Baltimore County public schools, including nearby Rodgers Forge Elementary School, have claimed the distinction in past years.

“Every principal dreams of having their school recognized as a high-performing, exemplary school, but when students are successful then your school is successful,” Hershfeld said. “All of us dream of having that recognized, but that’s not why I come to work every day. I come to work to help children be successful.”

West Towson and five other Maryland schools were selected this month in the category of exemplary high-achieving school for scoring in the top 15 percent of all Maryland schools on the 2017 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments, also know as the PARCC assessments, according to Baltimore County Public Schools officials.

The tests measure whether younger students are acquiring skills and knowledge needed to advance to the next grade level and whether older students are on track to graduate high school and are prepared for college and careers, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

An average of 79 percent of West Towson students met or exceeded expectations in math and language arts on the test.

“We always try to do our very best, putting the needs of our students first and foremost, but it really comes as a result of a strong, sound instructional program on a consistent basis,” Hershfeld said.

In recent years, teachers and staff members at West Towson Elementary have focused on familiarizing themselves with each student’s individual learning styles, Hershfeld said.

By focusing on a student’s strengths, weaknesses, motivations and interests, teachers can tailor lessons to students and, eventually, increase test scores.

A student who enjoys reading fiction about animals may be motivated to read nonfiction if the piece also relates to animals, Hershfeld explained.

“If we’re teaching children what to learn in a way that motivates them intrinsically they will score well on the assessment,” she added.

West Towson Elementary Parent Teacher Association board president Matthew Piercey said parents at the school have been looking forward to the school earning the distinction for years.

His daughter, 8-year-old Sarah Piercey, is in the third grade at West Towson Elementary; he also has a 3-year-old son, Charles, who will eventually attend the school.

“It makes you feel proud about the community you live in,” Piercey said.

The faculty, administration and students have worked hard in the eight years during which the school has been open, Piercey added.

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“[The staff] knew it was going to happen,” he said of the Blue Ribbon designation. “It was just a matter of time on establishing the testing record.”

As part of being named a Maryland Blue Ribbon school, West Towson will receive a Maryland Blue Ribbon flag to display on at the school, about $2,000 to cover a celebration party planned for the spring, $1,000 in office supplies and interactive technology equipment.

Faculty members are thinking about hanging the flag inside of the building on a third-floor walkway called “The Bridge” that connects two portions of the school, Hershfeld said.

“That way it will never wear out,” she added.

As for the office supplies, Hershfeld said the $1,000 would probably go pretty quickly. She plans to start with purchasing paper.

“We’ll see what else teachers need,” she said. “But, paper? That gets used up pretty quickly around here.”

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