Six Maryland schools receive 'Blue Ribbon' designation

Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick announced Friday that six schools, representing six districts, have earned the 2010 Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence designation.

The schools that received the distinction are Mount Washington Elementary School in Baltimore City; Towson High School in Baltimore County; Lime Kiln Middle School in Howard County; Severna Park High School in Anne Arundel County; Oklahoma Road Middle School in Carroll County; and Bel Air Elementary School in Allegany County.

Representatives from all of the awarded schools and districts gathered at the Maryland State Department of Education headquarters Friday morning to receive the honor, which Grasmick said wasn't easy to come by. Blue Ribbon schools have to meet rigorous criteria of sustained high achievement in both state and national requirements, and note dramatic improvements.

All of the 2010 Blue Ribbon schools in the counties are in the top 15 percent of achievement on the Maryland School Assessments, Grasmick said. And Mount Washington Elementary, whose achievement is ranked in the top 40 percent in the state, noted significant academic improvement, despite having a large number of economically disadvantaged students.

"When you hear these statistics, you know why we've selected these schools," Grasmick said, adding that school leaders should prepare for an influx of students seeking to attend the schools. "We get people from real estate agencies calling us on a daily basis asking 'Where are the Blue Ribbon schools?'"

This assessment rings true for Mount Washington Elementary, said city schools CEO Andrés Alonso. The high-performing and in-demand school was already due to expand next year to accommodate middle school students, in part because neighborhood parents wanted their children to continue in a school with high academic standards.

Nearly half of the school's students receive free and reduced-price meals, and the school boasts MSA proficiency scores in the 90th percentile. The school accomplishments soon will be featured in an "Anderson Cooper 360" special on CNN.

"It's nice for our hard work to be recognized, not only for our school, but for what's going on in our classroom," said Tiffany Choice, who teaches fourth grade at Mount Washington. "I will definitely let our children know that we are one of six, and they're just going to love that."

For Towson High School Principal Jane Barringer, the Blue Ribbon designation gives the school the momentum it needs to continue its work. The school's most notable accomplishments include a 98 percent and 99 percent proficiency in math and English on the MSAs, respectively. It also ranked 334 in Newsweek's 2010 list of "America's Best High Schools."

"It means everything to our school, in that we are certainly on the right track and every day we are making sure our kids are prepared for the future," Barringer said. "It is extremely important that we continue to make sure our kids are engaged, that they are able to find a connection, and feel that they belong."

Scott Conroy, principal of Lime Kiln Middle School, said the award represented more than academic successes. The school was also recognized by Grasmick for its successful "buddy program" with adjoining Cedar Lane School, which serves profoundly disabled students.

"It's great that this shows that not only do we have great test scores, but also well-rounded students," Conroy said.

Severna Park High School senior Katie Blunt said that while she missed the opportunity to mention the Blue Ribbon designation on her college applications, the award gives her confidence as she embarks on her journey at Elon University next year.

"I know my education has prepared me for college," Blunt said. "At our school, we want to do well, and our school wants us to do well."

In addition to a Blue Ribbon banner for their schools, the 2010 recipients will receive gifts that include $6,000 in technology equipment, $1,000 from the state Department of Education and a pizza party.

The schools will also be submitted to the U.S. secretary of education to vie for the title of a National Blue Ribbon School. The national winners will be announced in fall 2011.

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