Two elementary schools in Kent County were recognized this week as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education.
Felton’s Lake Forest North Elementary School and the Academy of Dover charter school on Saulsbury Road were among 287 public and 50 private schools nationwide whose names were announced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday.
Indian River School District’s John M. Clayton Elementary School in Frankford also received the honor this year.
Lake North and the Academy of Dover were named because their students made significant improvements in state and national standardized tests, particularly among minority and disadvantaged students.
“It’s amazing to get this honor,” North Principal Laura Lands said Thursday. “It’s really overwhelming.”
Lands, who is in her second year as principal, credited her predecessor, Brenda Wynder, for laying the groundwork.
“Dr. Wynder recognized how important it is to use data-driven instruction and she helped the entire staff know the importance of that concept,” she said. “Our instruction became more rigorous, which in turn led to student achievement elevating.”
North was selected based on test scores reflecting continuing academic achievement over the past five years. While the state set a goal of 73-percent proficiency for third-grade students taking the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System math and reading tests, North students achieved 91- and 90-percent proficiency on the respective exams in 2014, Lands said.
Those achievements were due to hard work on everyone’s part, she said.
Staff members, including the librarian, art teacher and computer teacher step into classrooms daily, working with small groups of children who need additional assistance, Lands said.
“It’s just our whole building,” she said. “Everyone is on board with helping the students.”
Academy of Dover Assistant Principal Cheri Marshall credited a combination of staff dedication and increased parental involvement in helping her charter school earn the Blue Ribbon honor.
The school, founded in 2003, got off to a rocky start and once was on the verge of losing its charter. But that’s all in the past, Marshall said.
“When we first started, our test scores were low,” she said. “We had to step back and decide how we were going to improve student learning.”
That reevaluation led to a focus on more individualized teaching.
“A majority of our teachers work in small groups, so they get to focus on individual needs as opposed to large groups all day,” she said.
The faculty and staff were “ecstatic” upon learning of their being named a Blue Ribbon School, Marshall said.
“It’s a true reflection on the dedication and hard work of the students and staff,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Education has sponsored the Blue Ribbon Schools program since its inception in 1982. In that time, 7,900 schools have received the designation, including 43 in the First State. Of those, 10 have been from Kent County.
The principals, as well as a teacher from each Blue Ribbon School, have been invited to attend a awards ceremony in Washington D.C. next month.