Blue ribbon called 'affirmation' of Hammond Middle's advances

The Baltimore Sun

Hammond Middle School was one of six in the state to be selected as a 2008 Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

"This is such an honor and wonderful affirmation for the Hammond staff, students and parents," Principal Kerry McGowan said in a statement. "Everyone has worked so hard to make sure our students are achieving. We feel like we just got the very best holiday gift possible, tied up with blue ribbon."

Hammond was able to distinguish itself after 95 percent of the school scored at proficient or advanced levels in reading on the 2008 Maryland School Assessments, a 6-point increase from 2007. In mathematics, 92 percent of the students scored at proficient or advanced levels, also a six-point rise from 2007. In addition, Hammond had a 99 percent pass rate for students taking the Algebra High School Assessment.

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick announced the blue ribbon winners at a news conference Thursday at the Maryland State Department of Education in Baltimore. In addition to Hammond Middle, other schools recognized included: Southern High in Anne Arundel County, Western High in Baltimore City, Seventh District Elementary in Baltimore County, Highland Elementary in Montgomery County and Stephen Decatur Middle in Worcester County.

The six schools have been submitted to the federal education secretary as candidates for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

The schools are being recognized on the basis of rigorous state and national requirements for high achievement and marked improvement, according to the state Department of Education. Hammond and the other schools will be honored at a banquet this March in Annapolis. They will also be recognized with a tribute by the General Assembly.

The schools will represent the state in the National Blue Ribbon Schools Competition. National winners will be announced in the fall of 2009 and will be invited to Washington for a national celebration.

Last year, River Hill High and Burleigh Manor Middle were honored by the U.S. Department of Education as two of seven No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools in Maryland, and two of 287 in the country.

Two years ago, Clarksville Middle was a winner of the award.

Budget tamed for '09

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin won't unveil his operating budget for fiscal 2009 until Jan. 6, but he knows he won't be asking for more than last year's $661 million request.

"I positively will not be asking for the same level of increase that I did," Cousin said Wednesday just before going to a budget planning meeting with top school system officials.

Last year's request represented a 7.2 percent increase over the previous year's spending plan.

That budget process was something of a cakewalk compared with what school officials say they are bracing for this year. All but $4 million of Cousin's budget request was funded last year.

"We're facing a difficult time as other schools are faced with similar situations," Cousin said. "My budget will reflect that these are difficult times from both the state and local perspective."

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced last week that he likely would cut funding for an array of programs, including state aid for public education in jurisdictions with high costs of living.

"We recognize the difficult times," Cousin said. "It is going to be impossible to ask for as much money as I did last year."

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