Blue Ribbon spotlight on Hammond Middle

The Baltimore Sun

Hammond Middle School has been the recipient of an unusual amount of star treatment this past month: an honorary dinner with political leaders in Annapolis, a visit by the state school superintendent, and a flag-raising ceremony with musical accompaniment.

The Laurel school is basking in the glow of being named a 2008 Maryland Blue Ribbon School, an honor bestowed upon schools that meet stringent state and national requirements for achievement and improvement.

Hammond Middle is one of six schools in Maryland to win the award. The others were Southern High in Anne Arundel County, Western High in Baltimore, Seventh District Elementary in Baltimore County, Highland Elementary in Montgomery County and Stephen Decatur Middle in Worcester County.

Representatives from each of the schools met in Annapolis on March 9 and were honored at a banquet. They were also recognized with a tribute by the General Assembly.

The schools have been submitted to the U.S. education secretary as candidates for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. Winners will be announced in the fall and invited to Washington.

At Hammond, 95 percent of the students scored at proficient or advanced levels in reading on the 2008 Maryland School Assessments, up 6 percentage points from 2007. In math, 92 percent of the students scored at proficient or advanced levels, also a 6-point increase from the previous year. In addition, Hammond had a 99 percent pass rate for students taking the algebra high school assessment.

High performance was turned in by several categories of students. For example, 100 percent of the sixth-grade Hispanic students scored at proficient or advanced reading and math MSAs. African-American sixth-graders scored 79.2 percent proficient or advanced in mathematics and 87.5 percent in reading. African-American seventh-graders scored 74.2 percent in math and 82.8 percent in reading. Eighty-one percent of the school's African-American eighth-graders scored proficient in math and 90.5 percent in reading.

"When people ask me why Hammond Middle School has been able to make such significant gains in academic achievement, I truly believe that it is due to so many people ... working toward one goal - creating a personalized learning environment where all students feel they can achieve," Principal Kerry McGowan said.

McGowan also pointed to a mentoring program in which sophomores at Howard Community College meet weekly with Hammond students. Another program encourages seventh-graders to act as "big brothers and sisters" to sixth-graders. Staff members also work with small groups of students to foster personal and academic growth.

The visit by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick this month was a particular highlight for the staff and students, McGowan said. The day included performances by the school's string quartet, jazz ensemble and chorus. There was an assembly at which students and staff applauded themselves for their work.

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