Highland Elementary Named National Blue Ribbon School

September 15, 2009
Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring was named today as a 2009 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The announcement was made by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to a room full of Highland students, staff, parents, school system administrators, and elected officials. Highland is one of only 314 schools in the country and one of six public schools in Maryland that have achieved the national Blue Ribbon designation this year.

The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors schools that have either placed in the top 10 percent of schools in a state based on their performance on state assessments or have shown dramatic improvement on state assessments over five years. The program recognizes outstanding public and private schools.

Highland Elementary School currently has a poverty rate of almost 82 percent, one of the highest among schools in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Approximately 62 percent of Highland students participate in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. In the 2004–2005 school year, the school was identified for Corrective Action by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) for missing Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) for four consecutive years. Just two years later, Highland Elementary School exited MSDE School Improvement status after achieving AYP for two consecutive years.

“Highland Elementary was previously recognized as a Maryland Blue Ribbon School and, by the National Center for Urban School Transformation, as one of 12 best urban schools in America,” said Board of Education President Shirley Brandman. "Highland Elementary is an example of the success students can achieve when they have teachers who believe in them and who are committed to doing whatever it takes to support students in achieving their highest potential. Under the inspired leadership of Principal Ray Myrtle, these young students are well on their way to being ready for college or careers because they have learned to work hard and challenge themselves to perform at the highest academic levels."

“Highland Elementary is a remarkable turnaround story,” said Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. “The success of its students is helping to shatter the stereotype that students who are learning English and those impacted by poverty cannot achieve at the highest levels."

Highland’s scores on the MSA significantly exceeded the standards and rival those of schools that do not face the challenges associated with highly diverse, high poverty, and high mobility student populations. The overall 2009 MSA reading performance showed that 96.1 percent of students in grades 3, 4, and 5 were proficient or advanced, an increase of 2 percent from the excellent performance of the previous year. In addition, scores in the advanced range continue to increase, especially in grades 4 and 5.

Although a primary focus at Highland has been on literacy, mathematics instruction also has received special attention. The overall aggregated math performance on the MSA in 2009 showed that 93.3 percent of students in grades 3, 4, and 5 were proficient or advanced according to state standards. In the 2008–2009 school year, 44 percent of Highland's fifth graders received above-grade-level Math 6 instruction, the result of a plan for acceleration that was put in place four years ago. In the current school year, 55 percent of fifth graders are scheduled for Math 6 instruction.

In order to achieve these results, the school administration has focused on setting high standards for all students and developing an active program of parent engagement. A schedule was developed that allows teachers to team together in classrooms. Limited English proficient and special education students have complete access to mainstream curriculum. Instructional leadership positions, including a reading specialist, reading coach, and math content coach, are used judiciously to ensure that the needs of individual students are being met.

“Our children here at Highland are talented and determined students,” said Principal Ray Myrtle. “They richly deserve the Blue Ribbon tribute, as do their families and our dedicated staff."

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