Viers Mill ES Named National Blue Ribbon School

September 20, 2005
Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring has been named a national No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School of 2005 by the U.S. Department of Education for making “significant progress in closing the achievement gap.”

Last year, under the leadership of principal James “Jamie” Virga, now director of school improvement initiatives with the MCPS Leadership Development Team, the school met both overall achievement and subgroup improvement goals for Adequate Yearly Progress on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) set by the Maryland State Department of Education. This achievement occurred in a student body with about 68 percent participation in the Free and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS) program, a measure of poverty. In addition, approximately 33 percent of students are in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program. Students in the school have come from 43 countries and speak 32 languages.

Dr. Stephen O'Brien, Director of Recognition Programs at the U.S. Department of Education, came to the school on Tuesday, September 20, to make the announcement of the award, visit classrooms, and have lunch with fifth grade students.

The national award follows Viers Mill's selection last fall by the Maryland State Department of Education as one of seven Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. Some recipients were selected because they scored in the top 10 percent of schools in the state on the MSA. Other schools with an economically disadvantaged student body, including Viers Mill, were selected for demonstrating dramatic improvement on the state assessments over at least the past three years and for being in the top 30 percent of schools in the state.

“Our alignment with team teaching, using our resources that have been provided to us through Title I, the ways that we communicate as a school and stay focused on the curriculum, and positive teaching strategies--all have contributed to our students' success,” said Viers Mill Principal Matthew Devan. “A strong focus on professional development ensures that staff members are continuously being trained on guiding reading practices, better teaching strategies, and other improvements.”

The success of African American and Hispanic students at Viers Mill attests to the positive impact of the instructional program. For example, in 2005 African American students in grade three achieved a 100 percent proficiency rate in reading, nearly double their rate of two years ago. Hispanic third graders more than doubled their proficiency rate in reading over the same time period, to 89 percent. The most spectacular gains were made among third grade students with limited English proficiency, whose proficiency rate in reading rose from 10 percent in 2003 to 90 percent in 2005.

Devan said that Viers Mill hopes to continue to meet the new and rigorous AYP benchmarks set by the state and will continue to refine its responses to the four critical questions: What do students need to know and be able to do? How will we know whether they have learned it? What will we do if they haven't? What will we do when they already know it?

In addition to Viers Mill Elementary, the other national Blue Ribbon schools in Maryland are Clarksville Elementary School in Howard County, Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Rock Hall Elementary School in Kent County, Showell Elementary School in Worcester County, Sparks Elementary School in Baltimore County, and Maimonides Academy/Yeshivat Rambam in Baltimore.

Nationwide, 295 schools are being recognized as Blue Ribbon schools this year.

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