A Mother’s Story on How Early Intervention Services Helped Her Son

Ed. Note: October 8, marks the 25th anniversary of President Reagan’s signing of the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act” (EAHCA) Amendments, which included for the first time, mandating services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. To build upon the services established in the EAHCA, last month, Secretary Duncan, and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Assistant Secretary Alexa Posny announced the release of new regulations that will help improve services and outcomes for America’s infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Below, a mother reflects on her experience and the important role that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Early Intervention Program for Infant and Toddlers with Disabilities provided her child and family.

Special education has been part of my world for as long as I can remember; some may say I was born into it.  I am the child of two special education teachers, and I worked for more than 17 years in the field. All of these experiences never prepared me for the day my own son was diagnosed with autism.

I knew Ethan was different at 19 months old but friends and family told me that all children develop differently. They suggested that I was looking for something to be wrong.  I was hoping they were right! 

Ethan loved to jump, at first it was precious, we called him our little bunny. But then he started missing developmental milestones. The tickle and play you would expect from a young child was replaced by a constant need to jump and flap, an aversion to noise and a fascination with things that spin.  With great trepidation, I called Virginia’s early intervention services office for an evaluation. 

The staff was phenomenal. Under the Part C IDEA program, the evaluators, coordinator and service providers worked with me to identify Ethan’s needs, ensure he received the needed services and ultimately to communicate those needs to the school district. His growth was magnificent and I started to feel hopeful again. The Part C program was one of the very first steps I would make in my journey into services for my child, and those steps have forever changed our lives.

Today Ethan is 7 years old and in 2nd grade and now gets services under Part B of the IDEA. While he still has a long way to go, he has an amazing sense of humor and communicates not only his needs and feelings but has learned to joke. Ethan, who was once seemingly without the need for company, is learning to develop friendships and loves to play games with his peers. Everyone who knows him and has worked with him comments on how far he’s come.  Our family is stronger because Ethan’s education is built on the roots established through the Part C early intervention services he received. 

Ellen Safranek is the proud mother of Ethan, and currently works at the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Prior to this position, she worked for 17 years in the Office of Special Education Programs. 

Hold Fast to Dreams: Helping All Students Succeed


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Enjoy this great new video highlighting Secretary Duncan’s visit to Beers Elementary last Monday and his speech to the American Association of People with Disabilities Conference the following night.  During his speech, the Secretary explained:

For too long, the answer to educating students with disabilities was to isolate them and to deny them the same educational experiences that others were having, and thankfully, those days are over. The fact is 60% of our students with disabilities spend 80% of their time in the regular school environment. That’s real progress, and there’s absolutely no reason that those numbers should not continue to rise as more and more teachers know how to effectively work with students with disabilities.

Principal Breaks Out the Champaign

Franklin Middle School Principal Angela Smith (center) has served in Champaign, Ill., schools for 16 years, beginning as a high school literature teacher after graduating from the nearby University of Illinois. Ms. Smith’s leadership team at Franklin includes Assistant Principal Sara Powell (left) and Associate Principal Bob Shoda (right).

Franklin Middle School Principal Angela Smith (center) has served in Champaign, Ill., schools for 16 years, beginning as a high school literature teacher after graduating from the nearby University of Illinois. Ms. Smith’s leadership team at Franklin includes Assistant Principal Sara Powell (left) and Associate Principal Bob Shoda (right).

The teachers and staff at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, Ill., have a saying: “Don’t be deficit.”
It’s not a school-wide statement about out-of-balance government spending; their slogan is a reminder not to shortchange students based on their backgrounds or perceived abilities. It’s about avoiding assumptions.

Setting this tone is Principal Angela Smith, who admits she occasionally gets called out by colleagues for making her own assumptions about students. Like when she was astounded that a boy in the school’s college preparation program for low-income students explained precisely why he used the word “wrath” in his writing instead of the more basic “anger.” Because, he said matter-of-factly, the anger was paired with action.

Smith confessed, “I shouldn’t have been surprised.” Still, it’s easy to be surprised by Franklin Middle School’s performance. While a large segment of students are the children of physicians or professors at the nearby University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, nearly six in 10 students at Franklin qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a statistic that in many U.S. schools is also an indicator of low academic achievement.

Smith acknowledges her students’ challenges but doesn’t use them as an excuse. “Poverty—it shouldn’t matter,” she said. “That’s not our focus for kids. Our focus is on their strengths, what it is they bring to the table… [Poverty] has been a barrier long enough for kids.”

That statement goes a long way toward explaining why Franklin Middle was named a 2011 Breakthrough School by the MetLife Foundation and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and why Smith, as the school’s leader for the last four years, was in San Francisco last weekend to accept the award at NASSP’s annual conference. Several senior officials from the Department of Education also attended the conference to listen to school leaders and share information about the Obama administration’s proposals for P-12 education, special education and improving school safety and climate.

While Principal Smith took home her school’s award, she credits her 85-person staff for the strides that Franklin has made in recent years. For more than a decade, the Champaign Unit 4 school district was under a federal consent decree because of concerns that its African American students were over-represented in special education and under-represented in gifted programs. In 2009, a federal judge ruled the district had successfully fulfilled the terms of the decree.

Key to Franklin Middle School’s turnaround has been collaboration among its teachers, Smith said. For example, every month, each faculty team—say, all the 7th grade math teachers—join Smith to walk the halls, observe other teachers in action, and talk about what they see. These drop-ins are not meant to evaluate the educators being watched, but rather to give the other teachers some ideas for their own practice. When Smith first built this time into each faculty team’s schedule, the teachers were amazed by what they could learn from colleagues just down the hall.

“They’d never walked out of their classrooms,” she said. “How could they? They were always teaching.”

While these observations last just a few minutes, when it comes time to evaluate her teachers, Smith spends entire class periods in each classroom. Her district requires tenured teachers to be observed for 40 minutes twice year; teachers who have not received tenure get evaluated four times a year.

“You can spend a lot of time evaluating, which is why it’s critical that your [assistant principals and deans] are instructional leaders” who can share in the workload, Smith said.

Smith is also fanatical about analyzing student achievement data, and she and her teachers use it constantly to guide instruction and make tweaks. Almost everywhere she goes, she carries reports documenting her students’ performance on standardized tests and other assessments.

Compared to five years ago, the trend lines are up and gaps in achievement among types of students have narrowed. Discipline problems are way down.

That’s not to say that Franklin doesn’t have areas to work on. Under No Child Left Behind’s accountability system, last year the school missed its growth targets—known as “Adequate Yearly Progress,” or AYP—in math and reading for students with disabilities and, for low-income students, in reading. As a result, the school is labeled as failing for not making AYP across the board, a seemingly unfair brand when you meet Smith and see what gains her school has made in every subgroup of students, in both reading and math.

In San Francisco, at a roundtable with Department of Education officials, Smith and other principals said they found it very appealing to hear that the Obama administration has proposed a fair accountability system, which acknowledges that there’s a big difference between a school with a couple of issues to improve on and one that persistently underserves large groups of students year after year.

Smith says her school’s improvement has been due in part to personalization of its program—again, using data and other information to tailor instruction to students’ needs.

“I think we’ve been able to not just gain a personal relationship with our students, but have some personal, real conversations with one another as educators [and] do a lot of personal reflection about what it is we’ve come to do,” she said. “We’ve overcome a lot of barriers…that really keep you from getting to the heart of the matter, which is kids.”

Just as it would be easy to “be deficit” about Franklin Middle School, it would have been easy years ago to discount Angela Smith. The daughter of a young African American mother in inner-city Chicago, Smith would have been classified as economically disadvantaged in the same way that so many of her nearly 600 students are today.

“That could have been me,” she said, reflecting on the youth she works with now. “I could have been one of those kids you pegged as not having a lot.”

Angela Smith and Franklin Middle School have overcome their deficits and have broken through.

Massie Ritsch
Office of Communications and Outreach

Where Engineering Is the Most Popular Discipline

Last week President Obama visited a school in Baltimore County, MD, where engineering is the most popular discipline.

At Parkville Middle School, teacher Susan Yoder explains…

“Our students don’t just learn about STEM concepts; they apply them by designing their own roller coasters to demonstrate the laws of physics and taking water samples from nearby Chesapeake Bay tributaries to practice environmental science.”

Read Yoder’s blog post about the President’s visit to her class.

i3: Change for Education Paradigms

i3: Change for Education Paradigms

Speaking at the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum and Expo on January 20, Secretary Duncan discusses roadblocks to education innovation with Aspen President and CEO, Walter Isaacson. “It’s not a technology challenge,” Arne Duncan explains. “It’s a courage challenge.”

On Tuesday, some of our country’s most creative minds converged in Washington, DC for the first Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Project Directors’ Meeting.

The meeting brought together project directors and staff from school districts and non-profits who last year won grants as part of the Department’s i3 competition – a grant program that supports local efforts to start and expand research-based innovations that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes in high need districts. In September, the Department announced that 49 school districts, non-profit organizations, and institutions of higher learning were selected from a pool of nearly 1,700 applicants to receive a share of the $650 million fund.

The two-day event, organized by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, provided an opportunity to recognize the innovative projects successful applicants are undertaking, to facilitate networking among grantees, and to provide training in grant management and evaluation design.

Attendees participated in a number of breakout sessions and heard from a great line up of speakers including a surprise guest, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Addressing the packed hall, Secretary Duncan talked about the tremendous hope he felt being in a room with so many bold education innovators. “All of you represent the great hope of where our country can go,” he said. “If the collective force of this room can be replicated, we will really be able to break through as a country.”

Secretary Duncan also discussed the Department of Education’s aspiration to be a powerful engine of innovation, rather than a compliance-driven bureaucracy. He acknowledged that Washington doesn’t have all of the answers, and that many of the best ideas will come from communities across the country.

That’s why i3 grants were awarded to bold applicants like the Beaverton School District, which (in partnership with Young Audiences Oregon and Southwest Washington, Young Audiences Arts for Learning National Office, and the University of Washington) will use its grant to develop and implement a novel academic program focused on improving achievement in literacy, learning, and life skills among high-need students.

Speaking Thursday at the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum, Secretary Duncan continued to argue that the current global environment “compels us to challenge the status quo” with innovative thinking. “The education sector has been slow to transform how we do education,” he said. He encouraged innovators at the forum to bring forward products and services that help students to learn better and faster, indicating that there will be a market for products that help schools to achieve dramatically better results. “There are lots of folks who can do well by doing good,” he said. “We’re changing the rules of the paradigm.” (See photos from the Aspen Institute’s Education Innovation Forum and Expo.)

To learn more about other winning i3 applicants, check here (PDF, 285K).

To view excerpts from the i3 conference, click these links:  Monica Beglau and the i3 project, Philip Poekert, and Cindy Pulkowski.

ED Staff

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.

‘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.

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.

2010 Blue Ribbon Schools Ceremony Celebrates Teachers and Principals

Secretary Duncan and Brandon Taylor celebrate education.

Secretary Duncan and Brandon Taylor celebrate education. Brandon, a 4th grader at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland, introduced both Arne Duncan and special guest Melody Barnes.

Outstanding teachers and principals from the 2010 Blue Ribbon Schools gathered in Washington this week for a two-day celebration in their honor. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials offered their congratulations to representatives from the 250 public and 64 private schools named in this year’s competition.

“I thank all of you for the example you set for me, and I thank all of you for the example you set for the country,” Duncan said.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools whose students achieve at very high levels or have made significant progress and helped close gaps in achievement, especially among disadvantaged and minority students. During the ceremony, 10 of the principals also received the Bell Award, an additional distinction recognizing their outstanding leadership in fostering successful teaching and learning.

Duncan acknowledged the important role that principals play in creating the conditions under which teachers can succeed in the classroom. “We have no good schools in this country without good principals, and, I assure you, we have no great schools without great principals,” he said.

As part of the two-day Blue Ribbon event, Teacher Ambassador Fellows from the Department of Education facilitated five round-table forums with Blue Ribbon principal and teachers, helping them to collaborate from one another on issues of great importance to teachers such as parent/community engagement and developing and evaluating great teachers.

Melody Barnes, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor

Melody Barnes, the President's Domestic Policy Advisor, brought President Obama's support for education reform and said that he is committed to working with Congress to make the American education system "the envy of the world."

The two-day event also included a surprise guest – Melody Barnes, the President’s Domestic Policy Advisor and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council in the White House, who brought greetings from President Obama.

“Thank you for your hard work to make our schools better – for everything you do to make sure our children succeed,” Ms. Barnes said. “And I want you to know that you are not alone. The President is prepared to work with teachers, principals and parents; governors, mayors and superintendents; business and philanthropic leaders; and the Congress to ensure that once again the American education system is the envy of the world, our children are prepared for bright futures and our country is able to compete and win on the world stage.”

More photos

Watch the videos below, or watch Melody Barnes and Arne Duncan speak separately.


Click here for an accessible version of the first video.
Click here for an accessible version of the second video.