Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Day

Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr Service DayAnswering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr Service DayIn celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and in honor of Dr. King’s life and legacy, Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali participated Monday in memorial events and community service projects.

In Washington, D.C., Secretary Duncan joined Rev. Al Sharpton for an annual King Day breakfast where he spoke about Dr. King’s legacy and discussed how education is the civil rights issue of our generation.  Later in the day, Arne and his family participated in City Year’s service project at Kramer Middle School, where he spoke with students and joined other volunteers in painting positive messages throughout the school. (President Obama also spent part of King Day helping to spiff up a DC school.)

Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr Service Day

Answering the Call of Martin Luther King, Jr. Service DayIn Philadelphia, Assistant Secretary Ali delivered opening remarks at a panel discussion at Girard College Lower School, joined the 29th Annual Martin Luther King Awards Luncheon and participated in the National Liberty Bell Ringing Ceremony.

Led by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the King Center, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is an opportunity for all Americans to come together to help meet the needs of their communities and make an ongoing commitment to service throughout the year. To find an opportunity to help your community, visit www.serve.gov.

See more photos.

Duncan Hears the Success Story of “Fantabulous” Sousa Middle

Duncan Hears the Success Story of “Fantabulous” Sousa Middle

Arne Duncan, incoming union president Nathan Saunders, Mayor Vincent Gray, Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson, recently-nominated State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley, and Sousa Principal Dwan Jordon.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met for the first time with a coalition of District of Columbia education leaders and held a panel discussion including parents, teachers, and students at a D.C. middle school that is producing dramatic gains in student achievement. The event also was the first time Secretary Duncan met with the city’s new mayor, its education leaders, and the new leader of the city’s teachers’ union.

Though the event was organized to kick off the new semester, most of the discussion served as a celebration of incredible accomplishments at Sousa Middle School. In the last two years, Sousa has grown reading scores by around 30 percentage points and math close to 18 points, while creating a safe and orderly academic culture.  “There is no reason why D.C. can’t be the best urban school system in the country,” Arne Duncan said.


Click here for an accessible version of the video.

During the question and answer period, parents, students and teachers lauded Sousa and asked panelists to what they attribute Sousa’s success and specifically what other schools can learn from their story.  “Parents used to not want to send children to Sousa, but now it’s a school of choice.  How do you replicate that?” parent Mark Tillman asked.

Duncan Hears the Success Story of “Fantabulous” Sousa Middle

Board of Education member Laura Slover pledges that her group will be partners in reform “so that all students are prepared for the global economy.”

One consistent answer resounded from all parties:   Sousa has accomplished its incredible work by setting the bar high for faculty and students.  The school has created “a community that pulls together and sets incredibly high expectations,” D.C. Public Schools interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson explained.

In conversations afterward, teachers described how the faculty work extremely long hours and offer Saturday school sessions for all students, regardless of achievement level.  The teachers are willing to work hours because they are absolutely committed to their students and to their principal, Dwan Jordon.  The effect on students is tremendous.   “These kids run down the hill to go to Saturday school,” 6th grade science teacher Erin Fisher said.  “It’s really incredible.”

Mayor Vincent Gray affirmed the group’s commitment to education reform in D.C. explaining that by meeting together today they are “creating a team committed to academic excellence” that began at Sousa and must spread throughout the district.  “If it can happen at Sousa, it can happen to any public school in D.C.,” Henderson agreed.  “We have just gotten started.”

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, North Carolina.

Nebraska Schools Use Niche Tactics to Claim Academic Victories

Nebraska Schools Use Niche Tactics to Claim Academic Victories

Left to Right - Brian Horst, former principal and Master of Ceremonies; Elaine Venard (YS Department of Education); Senator Tom Hansen; Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy; Superintendent David Engle; School Board Vice-President Jean Anderson; former Buffalo Elementary principal Mike McPherron (currently at Cody Elementary).

In addition to their loyalty to the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, Nebraska natives take great pride in their state’s great K-12 schools. When it was time to celebrate the success of four Nebraska schools that recently received Blue Ribbon School Awards, distinguished guests, faculty, parents and students happily switched from their team’s red to their very best blue attire.  Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy proudly commended the students at the schools for their accomplishments, “You can be a teacher, Lieutenant Governor, or an astronaut if you want to be,” he said.  “You can only be held back if you don’t work hard.”

The four Nebraska Blue Ribbon Schools— Bryant Elementary in Kearney, Buffalo Elementary in North Platte, Eustis-Farnam, a K-12 school in Eustis, and Southwest Elementary in Indianola—share many attributes, but they  also stand out for their individualized niche strategies that contribute to cultures of academic excellence.   

Eustis-Farnam:  Place-Based Education.   As part of the school’s emphasis on place-based education, students recognize their rural heritage by commemorating a student- built sod house constructed in 1997.  The house is used to teach the history and lifestyle of early pioneers in Nebraska.  Reinforcing the school’s local flavor, teachers draw on local personalities, experiences,  and geography as starting points for the context of academic lessons.

Bryant ElementaryExercising Body and Brain.   High-energy principal Mark Johnson  nurtures and inspires his students to learn by incorporating calisthenics into the daily routine.   Students look forward to dancing to his rendition of songs such as, “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and  this enthusiasm for learning spills over to parents of ESL students  involve themselves energetically in their children’s education.

Buffalo Elementary:  Caught Being Here.  “Caught Being Here” and “Math Facts in a Flash” are just a few of Buffalo Elementary’s sustained academic programs that contribute to Buffalo Elementary’s success.  “Caught Being Here,” which rewards students quarterly for perfect attendance, has dramatically decreased absenteeism.   Multiple staff members have also committed over 20 years of service to the school, and many of their families have attended Buffalo Elementary for generations.  The school’s mission, “Learning today, contributing tomorrow!” is lived out every day both in school and throughout the community.

Southwest Elementary:  Ready to Learn.  The dedicated teachers at Southwest Elementary have high expectations for their  students. Every Monday morning the question goes out to the student body, “Why are we here?”  and the answer is a resounding, “TO LEARN!”   The school uses a mentoring program called “Good Friends” to focus students and to encourage them to reach their full academic and personal potential. 

Elaine Venard
Elaine Venard is a communications associate in the Kansas City, MO Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Education. She is the proud mother of a daughter who teaches middle school science in North Kansas City.

Two Rock Elementary ’s Community Is at Heart of School’s Success

Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Godoski (left) stands with Principal and Superintendent Michael Simpson and English language development teacher Karin Beddow at Two Rock Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School celebration on November 18.

Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Godoski (left) stands with Principal and Superintendent Michael Simpson and English language development teacher Karin Beddow at Two Rock Elementary School’s Blue Ribbon School celebration on November 18.

The first thing a visitor to Two Rock Elementary School in rural Petaluma, Calif., is likely to notice is the feeling of community. Teachers, students, support staff, volunteers, the principal, and parents are all very much part of Two Rock, and this sense of community is at the heart of the school’s success. The U.S. Department of Education has named Two Rock Elementary School a 2010 Blue Ribbon School.

Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Godoski affirmed that at Two Rock, teaching is a team effort. “We all know not to let a student fall through the cracks . . . The key is, we all have a role,” she said recently at the 179-student school’s celebration of its Blue Ribbon award.

Karin Beddow, the school’s English language development teacher, agreed. “We’re a small school. You feel that you know the children and families really well.”

In addition to knowing each other well, teachers say that communication is the fuel that drives the engine of student learning. According to Ms. Godoski, about 30 percent of the students are ranchworkers’ children, who may not speak English, and in many instances, their parents speak only Spanish, as well.

Two Rock has met the language challenge directly, through ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee). “All of our [students’] parents are members,” Ms. Beddow explained. “We have monthly meetings that are held in Spanish. It’s an extension of the community.” At the meetings, teachers and school officials talk to parents about the importance of school. In turn, parents understand what their children need to succeed and reinforce the importance of school—including studying and homework—to their children.

And, Godoski said, the community communication strategy really works. “By fifth grade, they really blossom, which is difficult for ESL students to do; academic language is not an easy thing to learn. The students get a lot of self-confidence before going off to junior high school,” she said.

Two Rock Principal and Superintendent Michael Simpson is a champion of the school’s community emphasis. “I know it sounds a little corny,” Simpson said, “but it takes a village to raise a child…At every grade level, each student is everyone’s responsibility.”

Joe Barison is director of communications and outreach for the Department of Education’s Region IX office, based in San Francisco. He is a former teacher in the Continuation High School Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Arabic Teacher Supports Duncan at Tomorrow’s Foreign Language Summit

Steven Berbeco visits a high school in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, as part of a State Department-funded teacher exchange in February, 2010.

Steven Berbeco visits a high school in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, as part of a State Department-funded teacher exchange in February, 2010.

Although Arabs represent only one percent of my city’s population, and a tenth of a percent nationally, it is important that my students in Boston learn Arabic, both for our collective national security and for them as future leaders.

As a nation, we are unprepared to meet the sudden and pressing need for citizens familiar with Arabic. Our education system also lacks the infrastructure to produce a generation of culturally and linguistically literate graduates of Arabic. The field of high school Arabic is still so new that we have had to create our own curriculum and develop our own resources to train new teachers. At a time when students are eager to make sense of global events, we as teachers find ourselves pressed to develop a framework for our students to become responsible global citizens.

Just as the launch of Sputnik marked a sea change in our country’s education system, the recent and on-going events in the Middle East have influenced the support for less commonly taught languages like Arabic, with a substantial increase in funding for both public schools and private programs.

Charlestown High School has benefited from this assistance, though it often surprises people to learn who has been studying Arabic at our school for the past six years. Few of our students are Muslim, and fewer still come from Arabic-speaking homes. Our students are inner-city kids and come from some of our nation’s most challenging neighborhoods.

The core ethic behind our program is that students will rise to the level of expectation set for them, and even students who struggle to pass our state assessment test can succeed in demanding classes. As a society we believe that students can and should join the global economy, and at our school we are training them to be leaders.

I am excited by the Secretary’s recent participation in the CIA Foreign Language Summit. Foreign language study is a critical part of education in the 21st century, and the Secretary’s participation in an inter-agency conference signals the current administration’s focus on cooperation and collaboration in this area, as does President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform.

When schools adopt programs in Arabic, Chinese, Urdu, or another critically needed language, they are affirming the role of languages in a well-rounded education as well as the importance of including students in international dialogue. I am proud to be part of this effort, and I look forward to continuing innovations in teaching, curriculum, and professional support.

Steven Berbeco, New England Regional Teacher Leadership Initiative
Steven Berbeco teaches Arabic at Charlestown High School in Boston, Massachusetts.  He is 2008-2009 Classroom Teaching Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

ED Staff Give to Charity, with a Boost from Secretary Duncan

Secretary Duncan congratulates Paul Steenen of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach at a meeting honoring staff who have pledged one percent or two percent of their 2011 salaries to the Combined Federal Campaign.

Secretary Duncan congratulates Paul Steenen of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach at a meeting honoring staff who have pledged one percent or two percent of their 2011 salaries to the Combined Federal Campaign.

Like many of their colleagues throughout Federal government, U.S. Department of Education employees are showing their holiday spirit by lending their support to the Combined Federal Campaign, the annual charitable giving drive for employees in the Federal workplace. CFC provides funds to more than 4,000 local, national and international charities.

As of today, ED employees in the Washington, D.C., area have donated or pledged more than $520,000, about two-thirds of the way toward their 2010 agency-wide goal of $825,000.  Thanks are due to the work of volunteer “key workers” in the Department’s principal offices, who have been canvassing their colleagues and organizing events such as bake sales, chili cook offs, and talent shows to raise additional dollars.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has cheered on the staff since ED’s  campaign began in October.   He helped kick off the Washington, D.C., area effort with a charity event that gave employees a chance to compete against him and show their hoop skills in various basketball competitions.

Last week Arne released a lighthearted video of himself making his own CFC donation (watch the video at this link) and emailed it to all staff in the headquarters office.

Arne and the winner of the "CFC" game competition, Charles Browne of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education

Arne and the winner of the "CFC" game competition, Charles Browne of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education

“The holiday season has always been the time for Americans to make a special effort to help those in need,” Arne said.  “These are tough times for many families in our region and across the country.   Contributing to the Combined Federal Campaign is one way that we as Federal employees can help those less fortunate than we are. “

Yesterday he met and posed for photographs with ED employees in the D.C. area who earned CFC’s “Eagle” and “Double Eagle” award for pledging to donate one or two percent of their 2011 salaries to the campaign.  “We have the hardest working team, I think, in the Federal government.  We also have the most generous,” Arne said.

‘No Excuses’ Defines Success at Springfield, Illinois, Schools

Assistant Secretary of Education Peter Cunningham greets Jason Curry, a 1st grade teacher at Iles Elementary School.

Assistant Secretary of Education Peter Cunningham greets Jason Curry, a 1st grade teacher at Iles Elementary School.
Photo by Dave Heinzel, Springfield Public Schools

“We don’t use poverty as an excuse for low achievement.”

That strong message from Springfield School District 186 Superintendent Walter Milton, Jr. resonated throughout a day-long visit that Peter Cunningham, ED’s assistant secretary for communications and outreach, made to the central Illinois district Nov. 29.

Like many urban areas throughout the nation, Springfield—the state capital—has a proud history and a diverse community with a strong will to prepare both their children and their city for successful futures. Springfield recognizes that a high-quality education is vital to achieving both goals. The school district serves more than 14,000 students, with nearly 66 percent of them eligible for free or reduced-rate lunches.

Cunningham learned firsthand about the district’s focus on readying students to meet 21st century challenges through a whirlwind itinerary of activities that ranged from a Blue Ribbon School celebration to a planning meeting for turning around a struggling high school. He spoke with district students, parents and educators about local progress and plans, and their ideas on national education reform.

“This isn’t easy. There are no ‘one size fits all’ answers,” Cunningham told a group of teachers, administrators and parents at Lanphier High School, identified by Illinois as eligible for a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG). “Solutions need to come from the local level.”

Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham congratulates Lindsay School's teachers, students, and parents during a Blue Ribbon School celebration.

Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham congratulates Lindsay School's teachers, students, and parents during a Blue Ribbon School celebration.
Photo by Dave Heinzel, Springfield Public Schools

While the dialogue at Lanphier was sobering, it was also hopeful. The group discussed strategies to improve, to include an extended school day, a new curriculum to make subject matter relevant to students and developing a system where kids at risk may be identified early and provided resources to succeed. According to Sara Vincent, the district’s director of communications, implementation of some of those elements has already begun, and has produced small but positive results, to include better attendance and a decline in suspensions.

The assistant secretary and other ED officials frequently visit schools around the nation, and often bring reports of promising best practices and insights, as well as concerns, back to Washington. The takeaways from the visit were invaluable, voluminous and varied.

At Vachel Lindsay School, a neighborhood elementary school serving a 45 percent low-income population, Principal Wendy Boatman cited the school’s dedicated outreach to the parents of disadvantaged children as key to its improvement in state assessment scores, which earned it recognition as one of 314 Blue Ribbon Schools throughout the United States for 2010. After discussions with Boatman and some of the award-winning school’s other administrators and teachers, Cunningham said he was impressed with the clear “culture of trust” among them.

Superintendent Walter Milton, Jr. hugs an Iles Elementary student.

Superintendent Walter Milton, Jr. hugs an Iles Elementary student.
Photo by Dave Heinzel, Springfield Public Schools

“From day one, the clear message to students is that they are going to college,” said Chris Colgren, principal of Capital College Preparatory Academy, a new school opened this fall that will ultimately serve students in grades 6-12. CCPA, open to all Springfield students through a lottery, uses best practices from schools throughout the U.S. that have generated strong achievement among high-poverty populations, including gender-specific classrooms and an extended day schedule, as well as the pervasive college-bound attitude.

All students are provided their own laptops at Lincoln Magnet School, a technology-focused school open to all Springfield middle-schoolers through a lottery. More than 96 percent of students met or exceeded state standards for 2010 at Lincoln, where the tech theme goes far beyond the equipment. Teachers use strategies aimed at best connecting with a generation that has grown up with computers, texting and video games as routine elements of daily life. For example, one student showed Cunningham how her English teacher asked her and classmates to create “Wordles “—computerized “word clouds” that can demonstrate understanding in a quick and fun way that capitalizes on pupils’ visual acuity and communications style.

During a small group discussion, teachers said they were gratified to learn from Cunningham about the focus on flexibility, innovation, growth-testing and “carrots, not sticks” in the Obama Administration’s blueprint to re-write the No Child Left Behind education law. In the coming year Congress may act to reauthorize the law, which is formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“There’s got to be a way to get accountability that lets us breathe,” one educator said. “The message that we’d like to hear from the President and Secretary Duncan is ‘We’re going to support teachers, and not punish them for not meeting unrealistic expectations.’”

Julie Ewart
Office of Communications and Outreach

Julie Ewart is a senior public affairs specialist for Region V (including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin) and a proud mom of three public school students.

Duncan, Van Roekel and Hite Discuss Strategies to Turn Around Low-Performing Schools

It’s not OK for only 15% of students to be reading on grade level or 17% testing proficient in math…  It’s not always about doing what is popular, it’s about doing what matters to help young people succeed….
Dr. William Hite, Superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools

Duncan, Van Roekel and Hite Discuss Strategies to Turn Around Low-Performing SchoolsRelationships, collaboration and change were on the docket as Secretary Arne Duncan joined National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, Prince George’s County Superintendent of Schools William Hite, local leaders and union officials, distinguished educators and parents at G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, Maryland, for a school visit and roundtable discussion on effective strategies for turning around low performing schools.  Gholson is one of four schools in the county that are implementing a turnaround model supported by School Improvement Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

Following an observation in Joe Webb’s 7th grade science class, Duncan, Van Roekel and Hite convened a roundtable discussion with the community members and educators invested in the critical work of turning around the persistently low achieving school.  The two newly installed co-principals -— Ebony Cross and Lacey Robinson -— attested to the need for robust parent and community support for the efforts currently being undertaken to improve academic achievement at the school.  Matthew McCrea, a 7th grade math teacher and one of 14 educators kept on Gholson’s faculty from the previous academic year, talked about the importance of innovation and flexibility to implement the changes needed to succeed in an underperforming school.  Lew Robinson, executive director for the Prince George’s County Educator’s Association, talked about the turnaround model as difficult but important work that must be done on behalf of children. 

“Turning around our worst performing schools is difficult for everyone,” Secretary Duncan said.  “But it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids.”

Since opening its doors in 2002, Gholson has consistently failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress and was required by law to restructure.  With support from ED’s School Improvement Grant program, Gholson initiated a number of changes for the 2010-11 school year, including a new leadership team; an influx of new teachers and faculty members; increased learning time for instruction in core academic subjects; a new Parent University to boost parent involvement; and innovations to encourage academic achievement through the use of Scholar Dollars and gender-specific core content classes. 

Gholson is also participating in NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign, a program launched by the National Education Association that highlights innovation and success in America’s struggling schools.  The campaign supports strategies to transform schools and emphasizes collaboration by all community stakeholders.

The turnaround process at Gholson is funded through a portion of the $3.5 billion made available to states through the School Improvement Grant program from money set aside in the 2009 budget and the Recovery Act.  An additional $545,633,000 was appropriated in 2010 and will be awarded to states to fund additional schools in the 2011-12 school year. ED has also requested an additional $900 million for the program in the 2011 budget. 

Learn more about the School Improvement Grant program

See photos of the visit and roundtable at Gholson. 

Todd May
Office of Communications and Outreach

Black Educators Share Teachers’ Concerns and Hopes

Delores McCollum, a 31-year retired teacher from Ohio with Jemal Graham, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and 6-year teacher.  Before becoming a math teacher, Mr. Graham worked in finance and real estate development.

Delores McCollum, a 31-year retired teacher from Ohio with Jemal Graham, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and 6-year teacher. Before becoming a math teacher, Mr. Graham worked in finance and real estate development.

Thousands of teachers, administrators, coaches, guidance counselors, and parents descended on the Fort Worth, Texas Convention Center November 17-20 for the 38th Annual Conference of the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE).  Designed to bring together educators and parents of the African Diaspora from across the nation and the world, attendees traveled from as far as Nova Scotia, Canada and West Africa. 

On Saturday, November 20, the US Department of Education hosted a teacher roundtable to hear directly from educators their views about the nation’s education system and ED policy.  Though the roundtable included teachers from a diversity of experiences, content areas, and regions, several shared themes became quickly apparent. 

Ending High-Stakes Testing.  One interesting observation made by several veteran educators was that the overwhelming emphasis on test scores in the past decade has eroded the tendency for many teachers to share best practices and serve as the informal mentors that so many new teachers desperately need.  Instead, teachers find themselves in competition with each other over whose test scores will be better.  They expressed hope and optimism that the new focus on growth in President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform will rekindle the spirit of cooperation that has been lost over the last decade.  When teachers can focus on making sure that every child is moving in the right direction rather than worrying about whether their students are outperforming the students in the classroom next door, we will have a system that fosters growth and development for teachers and, most importantly, for students, they said. 

Developing Authentic Teacher Evaluations.  Another common thread from the roundtable discussions was the need for effective systems of evaluation.  Though it may be surprising to some, teachers in the room actually expressed a desire for more methods of evaluation, not less.  A twenty-seven-year veteran of the classroom recalled that during her tenure, “A lot of my colleagues said, ‘… you ought to be glad [that no one has come to observe you in a long time]’ and I thought, no – I’m not glad because I’m not perfect and I need to see [things] from somebody else’s perspective…”

It was extremely evident throughout the roundtable discussion that true professional educators who care about improving their craft and student outcomes are hungry for evaluation systems that consist of more than mere checklists, which result in an “S” or  “U.” 

Speaking as a New York teacher, this is perhaps the most critical facet in the current push for education reform.  Far too many of the “bad” teachers that are maligned in the media are simply caring and dedicated individuals who need proper guidance to improve.  States must develop evaluation systems that give teachers the feedback necessary to make teachers better.  The President’s Blueprint includes plans for developing and supporting teachers, and I am hopeful that Congress will include them in plans to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Childhood Education Act.

Jemal H. Graham
Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow
Jemal Graham teaches math in Brooklyn, NY.

Country is Cool: Rural Kansas School Celebrates Blue Ribbon Achievement

St. George students raise the Blue Ribbon flag to let their community know about the school’s superior academic achievement.

St. George students raise the Blue Ribbon flag to let their community know about the school’s superior academic achievement.

A new banner flies high over a small rural school nestled in a Kansas River valley.  Students and staff at St. George Elementary School in northeast Kansas cheered loudly on Nov. 19, as the new blue-and-white flag was unfurled and raised to celebrate St. George being named a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

What makes St. George successful?  Individualized instruction. St. George is a multi-age, continuous-progress school that advances students through the curriculum as fast as they are able to master the material.  Textbooks are used as supplemental information only.  Instead, teachers write their own thematic units for students that allow them to make meaningful connections between content and the real world—while still teaching Kansas state standards.  It is not easy, but this focus on student achievement keeps the staff united. “Teachers and staff go above and beyond, putting in many extra hours to ensure that students achieve,” said Debbie Edwards, who has been a principal for 21 years.

U.S. Department of Education Public Affairs Specialist Jeanne Ackerson (left) and teacher Sherry White celebrate St. George’s Blue Ribbon achievement.

U.S. Department of Education Public Affairs Specialist Jeanne Ackerson (left) and teacher Sherry White celebrate St. George’s Blue Ribbon achievement.

Sherry White, special education teacher, believes the key to the school’s success lies in this combination of individualized instruction and hard work, which creates a dynamic school team.  “Everybody looks out for everyone.  Even special education teachers receive assistance from all staff in working hard at educating the individual child,” she said.  “We use assessments to target areas of strengths and weaknesses, and adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of students.  So far my school year has been incredible.”

St. George is part of the Rock Creek School District and is the second school (of three) in the district to achieve Blue Ribbon status.  Educators in the district are hoping that the third school, Westmoreland Elementary, will be nominated in the future so that the district will be three for three!

Before joining the Department of Education, Jeanne Ackerson taught for 20 years in Kansas City, Mo., public schools.  She is based in the Department’s Region VII office in Kansas City, which is responsible for outreach to Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.

Colorado wind chill couldn’t stop these Eagles!

Accepting the Blue Ribbon School award were (R-to-L) Principal Kathleen Kreiger, and student body council co-chairs, Charlie Doebbler and Bryce Lorenz. Department representative Helen Littlejohn is on the left.

Accepting the Blue Ribbon School award were (R-to-L) Principal Kathleen Kreiger, and student body council co-chairs, Charlie Doebbler and Bryce Lorenz. Department representative Helen Littlejohn is on the left.

Dennison uses community support and data-driven decisions to take home a second Blue Ribbon!

The windy 37-degree weather didn’t chill the spirits of 600 Dennison Elementary School Eagles yesterday as they celebrated their second Blue Ribbon School award this decade. Students, staff, parents, and community supporters of the Lakewood, Colo., school huddled in the outdoor stadium, warmed by the energy of enthusiastic applause and acknowledgements for their school’s incredible accomplishment.

“There are really three components at work here,” explained Principal Kathleen Kreiger, who has headed the school for the past nine years. “We would not have achieved this award without our amazing staff, parents, and of course our STUDENTS!”

Noting that the award is really a community accolade, Ms. Kreiger gave credit to the hard work by the entire staff – teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff. “This really belongs to all of us,” she said, before presenting certificates of thanks to each person on the staff. “I am so proud of all of you!” she said. Click here to view video of the Blue Ribbon ceremony at Dennison.

The staff at Dennison attributed their success to continually analyzing formal and informal student data to inform their instruction and keep students on target for achieving at least grade-level proficiency in all content areas. The Dennison instructional model includes:

  • Systemic and systematic programming in all content areas;
  • Self-contained classrooms with an emphasis on whole group instruction;
  • Open Court Reading Program emphasizing phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, and comprehension;
  • An emphasis on both basic skills and higher-level thinking skills;
  • A “specials” program that includes art, music, physical education, and computer instruction.

When parents were asked what they appreciate about Dennison, they consistently said the school provides an academically rigorous and well-rounded education. President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will support all schools in their work to offer a well-rounded education.  http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/blueprint/publicationtoc.html

Kreiger, who attended the 2010 Blue Ribbon Schools celebration in Washington on Nov. 15-16, noted that the presentation of the Dennison Blue Ribbon was the highlight of her professional career.  “To be in this business, you really have to be passionate about students and your work,” said Kreiger. “We all really strive to keep improving what we do every day for our students.”

Helen Littlejohn is a Senior Public Affairs Specialist in Region 8.  Before coming to the Department of Education, she substitute taught in the Department of Defense Schools in Germany and served on the parent committee at her son’s high school.

Outstanding Principals Share Secrets for Leading Blue Ribbon schools

At the Blue Ribbon opening ceremony, Edit Khachatryan (with Teaching Fellow Linda Yaron) announces that she will be facilitating a discussion among Blue Ribbon teachers and principals later in the afternoon.

At the Blue Ribbon opening ceremony, Edit Khachatryan (with Teaching Fellow Linda Yaron) announces that she will be facilitating a discussion among Blue Ribbon teachers and principals later in the afternoon.

Last week, I had the honor of listening to some of the nation’s most dedicated teachers and leaders at the Blue Ribbon Schools Program Awards Ceremony. The Blue Ribbon Schools Program was the brainchild of the second Secretary of Education, Terrel H. Bell, in whose honor there is also a National Distinguished Principals Award.

The Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellows were invited to facilitate discussions among Blue Ribbon principals, teachers, and representatives around topics deeply important to school success.  We also led an insightful conversation with Terrel H. Bell Award winning principals about school leadership.  I asked the first question, “What’s your secret?”

“Focus on what’s best for kids,” all principals said in various ways.  “Tenacious child-centered decision making,” another offered.  Principals spoke about finding ways to bring on board competent team players, empowering them to make decisions, and supporting them with ongoing, targeted professional development. One principal said, “I surround myself with the best and the brightest and get out of their way.”  Another spoke about knowing the strengths and expertise of teachers and trusting them. These principals reminded me of my own principal back home and the type of dynamic leadership that is necessary in every public school.

My takeaway: Successful school leaders know they cannot lead by themselves. They employ a distributed leadership model in their schools where teachers hold meaningful decision-making roles with a shared-vision of high expectations.  They restructure schools and roles to meet student needs, always making “student achievement the priority.”  It looks different in each school, but across the country, high achieving schools have leaders that don’t need to be at the school for the school to run.

Edit Khachatryan is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social science teacher on loan from Clark Magnet High School, a 2006 Blue Ribbon Schools Award recipient, in Glendale, CA.