There was singing, smiles, and joy at Ronald McNair Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon as Maryland state education dignitaries and Montgomery County schools officials gathered to celebrate the awarding of Maryland Blue Ribbon status on the Germantown school.
In December, the school was named one of six Blue Ribbon school in the State of Maryland for the 2016-2017 school year. The Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes and honors schools that exhibit high performance or significant improvement in reading and mathematics achievement as measured by Maryland assessments. Schools must meet other rigorous standards developed by Maryland State Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education, including school leadership, professional development, and instructional approaches based on school-age population.
Yesterday’s celebration included visits from Dr. Karen Salmon, State Superintendent of Schools, as well as Dr. Jack Smith, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools; Michael Durso, President other Montgomery County Board of Education; Del. David Hidalgo-Fraser (District 15); Dr. Darla Strouse, Director, Blue Ribbon Schools; and Gregory Edmundson, the Elementary Director of School Support and Improvement with MCPS, and of course Principal Sherilyn Moses, who came back to the school for celebration for the first time since leaving for maternity leave.
The celebration which was held in the gymnasium included the entire school, students, staff, and parent volunteers included a performance from the Fourth Grade chorus and remarks from the visiting dignitaries.
“You deserve a tremendous amount of congratulations,” Dr. Smith told the McNair students. “Another group of people that deserve a tremendous amount of congratulations for earning this recognition is the staff members here at McNair ES. Without them, you would not have the understanding and knowledge that you need.”
“You are amazing students,” said State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon. “You have amazing teachers, and you have the opportunity to be named a National Blue Ribbon School. I am crossing my fingers and hoping that I will be able to come back here to visit again in September when those awards are announced.”
Dr. Salmon told the students that Principal Moses’ baby was called “the Blue Ribbon Baby of 2016-2017” because the baby was born on March 14, one day after attending a dinner in Annapolis held in honor of the winning schools.
“Teaching is one of those professions where you don’t always see the fruition of your hard work immediately,” Moses told Germantown Pulse. “Here is an example of teachers seeing that they are doing something right. Your passion is coming through. We say that test scores really don’t matter, but this was an honor based on use beating the odds, it was based on the fact that for a diverse population we are scoring in the 80 percent range, with other schools that are not as diverse.”
“It starts with the kids,” said Moses, “We tell them all the time, ‘Work hard. Be nice.’ This is an honor to their hard work. I tell them that you want to SOAR when no one is looking. You have been working hard, and now the world recognizes you, or at least the State of Maryland. It helps them to give them extra motivation. If you work hard, it does pay off.”
At McNair, which is named to honor the American physicist and NASA astronaut, Ronald McNair, who died during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, to SOAR takes on a special meaning. To S.O.A.R., McNair students know that they have to be Safe; Organized; Actively Learning; and Respectful. All students are reminded of these expectations on a daily basis. McNair students say the S.O.A.R. pledge every morning during morning announcements, according to Moses.
“This is a big celebration of our family, our community,” said Moses. “We have an active parent community with our PTA that supports us in any way that we ask. We have parents that volunteer outside of the PTA, and we are a community that will come together so easily and readily to help. This is a wonderful celebration and a thank you, in a way, for their commitment.”
According to Acting Principal Amanda Dali, the hard work of both the staff and the parent community has been instrumental in allowing McNair to soar to new heights. “The dedication of the staff and the parent community greatly contributed to the school earning the award. We have had an increase in our PTA involvement each year. We have been working hard to do that.”
Located at 13881 Hopkins Road, with an enrollment of 875 students, McNair has a diverse population that includes economically disadvantaged, ESOL, and special education students. The school has made strides in achievement with more than 62 percent of students who are proficient or advanced in both math and English/language arts. The school’s Home School Model program has special education students fully included in co-taught classes at all grade levels, kindergarten through 5th grades.
Unlike many elementary schools in Montgomery County, McNair is bucking the trend of schools dropping enrollment. It has the highest enrollment of any elementary in Northwest Cluster, a title held by Spark Matsunaga ES for many years. Indeed, many elementary schools throughout the county have seen a drop in enrollment as those students who made elementary schools burst at the seams begin to age up to middle and high schools.
With 875 students, McNair is well beyond its capacity of 645, according to an MCPS data sheet. “We have seen a lot of new families moving into our area,” said Moses and the school staff has had to adapt to that increase.
“The biggest shift that we made this year,” said Moses, “was switching up the teachers at almost every grade level so that we could balance out some of the expertise of different staff members. Our school improvement plan goal is about small group instruction daily, and that is the meat of instruction. We make sure that our kids are meeting with our teachers in small groups for reading and math every day.”
“We have been trying to have focus on equity because our population has been changing,” said Dali. “We have been working on how we can adapt our structure in order to meet the needs of the kids that we have now. All of that contributes to seeing the rise. Our teachers are very invested in our kids and the school and want to make sure all of our kids are learning.”
McNair was ranked as the 11th best public elementary school in the state of Maryland, and top in Montgomery County Public Schools for the 2015 NICHE Ranking of Best Schools.
“It is fun to be part of this school,” said Dali. “Being part of a school that has been recognized for the all work we’ve been doing is awesome. It is great to know that we are working hard and we are seeing the benefits. It is great to be recognized for hard work.”
As state winners, Ronald McNair along with five other schools will now compete in the National Blue Ribbon Awards program. Other winners are Shipley’s Choice Elementary in Anne Arundel County; Sunderland Elementary School in Calvert County; Centerville Elementary School in Frederick County; and Manor Woods Elementary School in Howard County.
For being named a Blue Ribbon School, McNair ES and the other winning schools will receive a Maryland Blue Ribbon Flag, a monetary prize, and an interactive whiteboard.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools will be announced in September 2017 by the U.S. Department of Education. MCPS has 37 National Blue Ribbon Schools, the most recent being Cashell Elementary School in 2014.
Top: The gym at Ronald McNair Elementary School in Germantown was packed on Wednesday to celebrate the school being named a 2016-2017 Maryland Blue Ribbon School.
Next: McNair Principal Sherry Moses (middle) poses with Blue Ribbon Schools Director Dr. Darla Strouse and Maryland State Superintendent of School Dr. Karen Salmon after receiving the Blue Ribbon Medal.
Next: Members of the McNair ES Fourth Grade Chorus sang a welcome song at the celebration.
Next: MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith congratulated the students and staff of McNair ES.
Next: Maryland State Schools Superintendent keeps her fingers crossed that McNair will be selected as a National Blue Ribbon School in September.
Video: The entire school sings the Ronald McNair school song to end the celebration.
Next: Acting Principal Amanda Dali prepares the students to sing the school song.
Photos and video by Germantown Pulse.