Riderwood Elementary earns U.S. honor


Only a modest banner over the front doors of Riderwood Elementary School gives a clue that the school is the first in Baltimore County to win a prestigious national award.

The red and white banner, "Riderwood 1994 Blue Ribbon School," means it is one of only 220 public and 56 private schools across the country to be selected a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. It is the first county school to be chosen in the 12 years of the award.

Blue Ribbon Schools are chosen for leadership, an encouraging climate for students and teachers, a stimulating curriculum, a safe and drug-free environment, strong parental and community involvement, and student achievement.

Riderwood, made up of 429 students, sits between two snug groups of middle-class homes off Landrake Road. Yesterday, the selection had many of the students and their teachers acting as playful as their mascot, Rocky the Raccoon.

Blue ribbons hung on classroom doors, and several teachers wore tiny blue ribbons on their clothing.

"I'm happy because it was, like, really cool," said Katie Brown, 11, a fifth-grader. "It's cool that we get to go to a school that's in first place."

"I was excited," said Bill Keimig, 44, a fourth-grade teacher. "More so because the children and the parents deserve the recognition. It's not a teachers' school. It's not an administrators' school. It's their school."

Principal Carol Ann Hilleary said Barbara Kelly, Central Area superintendent, suggested last September that the school go for the award.

A 30-member committee of faculty, administrators and parents completed a 32-page application, which was sent by the state Department of Education, along with those of seven other Maryland schools.

"Riderwood came out a little bit ahead of the rest," said Darla Strouse, director of the state Blue Ribbon School Program. "Their description of community support, innovative techniques in terms of reading, performance of the students in terms of tests, the core curriculum . . . The people reading their application felt like they were actually there at the school."

Three other Maryland schools also were recognized: Burtonsville and Chevy Chase elementaries in Montgomery County and Yellow Springs Elementary in Frederick County.

Mrs. Hilleary said Riderwood learned last week it had won.

After she made the announcement, she "could hear the children cheering. They came up to my office in lines to hug me," she said.

"I think it says that our school is a model for all schools nationally," she said. "I think it says that we set high standards and that we make sure to maintain those high standards . . . The reason we're a Blue Ribbon School is because we place the children first."

In the glow of recognition, all parties seemed to want to share credit. While appreciating the "pat on the back" for teachers and students, several teachers emphasized the importance of parental involvement.

For instance, in Barbara Borys' first-grade class, Deirdre Marlowe of Lutherville volunteers an hour a week. Her daughter, Marlowe Boukis, is a first-grader.

"I think the education of your kids is 50-50 -- the school and the parents," Ms. Marlowe said. "You can't say that a school is not doing its job if you're not participating in it."

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