Six elementary schools have been added to the prestigious Maryland list of Blue Ribbon designees after they were recognized as the highest performers and for raising achievement of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Interim state Superintendent Bernard Sadusky announced Tuesday that six schools from six districts had been selected by the U.S. Department of Education as 2012 Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools. He called the honor "emblematic of the fine instruction taking place throughout our school system."
Last week, Education Week named Maryland's schools the No. 1 system in the nation.
Blue Ribbon schools have to meet rigorous criteria of sustained high achievement in state and national requirements and note dramatic improvements. The six elementary schools are: Crofton Meadows in Anne Arundel County; Woodholme in Baltimore County; Ring Factory in Harford; Rachel Carson in Montgomery; Whitehall in Prince George's; and Pocomoke in Worcester County.
The schools, all of which ranked in the top 15 percent on the Maryland School Assessments, will go on to vie for the title of National Blue Ribbon schools. Each receives a blue ribbon to fly in honor of the achievement. The schools also received gifts, including a new Smart Board and $2,000 from sponsors.
For Woodholme Elementary, it was yet another milestone for its teaching staff after McKinley Broome, a fourth-grade math teacher, was awarded the Milken Educator Award last year, an award compared to the Oscars for teaching that comes with a $25,000 check.
The Blue Ribbon recognized Woodholme's soaring achievement, including having 96 percent of its students rated proficient or advanced in math and reading. Forty-two percent of the school's 800 students receive free or reduced-price meals.
Woodholme Principal Maralee Clark said the Blue Ribbon represents a schoolwide commitment to quality teachers meeting the needs of all students.
"It's a collaborative effort," Clark said. "Our teachers work so hard every single day and understand the value of having a great teacher in every classroom."
John Maple, a fifth-grade math and science teacher, beamed as he held up a cellphone picture to show what the Blue Ribbon means to him and his colleagues. The photo was of one of his students' math tests with a red marking of 95 percent; just a few weeks ago, the student was struggling to pass.
While he called the designation "overwhelming," he pointed to the picture and said: "This is what it's about."
The elementary school, which was built seven years ago, focuses on science and math. Clark said it was fitting that Woodholme received a Blue Ribbon during the final year of Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's tenure because his administration has bolstered the county's science and math curriculum.
"It's a wonderful way to cap your career," said Hairston, Baltimore County's first black superintendent, who is retiring in June after 12 years in the post. "It puts everything in perspective for me because this is what it's been about for 43 years for me."
For current and former principals of Crofton Meadows in Anne Arundel, the Blue Ribbon represents a torch passed for continued excellence.
Janine Robinson, who led the school when it posted 100 percent proficiency marks in math and 99 percent proficiency in reading last year, said she was humbled by the award.
"It affirms the work we've been doing for years," said Robinson, who left the school in the spring but was on hand to receive the award Tuesday. "We've just focused on raising the academic bar for every single student."
Her successor, Derek Burns, said that bar will continue to rise.
"If anyone just walked into our school, you'd know we were a Blue Ribbon school without a flag flying," Burns said. "You walk in and the kids are happy, they're engaged, they're learning. Our goal is to continue that."
Harford County Superintendent Robert Tomback called Ring Factory's designation a "motivator for even bigger and better things."
The school was recognized for having 98 percent of its students proficient or advanced in math and reading. The school is also known for its extracurricular activities, particularly its Ring Factory Fox Choir and steel drum groups.
"It's a pat on the back that's going to help us maintain what we do every day," said Principal H. Earl Gaskins.