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Salem Elementary shows its class

November 18, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Salem Avenue Elementary School has been named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, marking the second straight year a Washington County school has been received the prestigious state honor.

Salem Avenue was one of 10 schools in seven counties in the state to earn the award, according to the Maryland Department of Education.

Last year, Hancock Senior-Middle School became the county's first-ever Blue Ribbon school.

"I could not be prouder," said Washington County Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. "It's an award that says about as much as you can say good about a school."

Schools were selected based on a 40-page application and were evaluated on criteria that measured student performance.

Salem Avenue received excellent marks in the areas of challenging standards and curriculum, parent and community involvement, professional development and student-focused instruction.

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"This is the ultimate. There is no higher achievement a school can get," Salem Avenue Principal Vincent Spong said. "Every one of the teachers here is top-notch. They all have the same goal."

The majority of Salem Avenue Elementary students - 62 percent - are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

Although such demographics are often a characteristic of struggling schools, Salem Avenue counters the trend through a combination of dedicated teachers, an active community and high expectations, school officials said.

"It was a real challenge for them to perform as well as they did," said county schools spokeswoman Donna Messina.

Carol Corwell-Martin, a third-grade teacher who helped put together the application packet, said Salem Avenue students achieve because teachers hold them to high standards.

"We have very high expectations for our students, and we never believed that they could not be successful," she said.

Corwell-Martin, who was named Washington County Teacher of the Year in April, said school officials targeted community involvement after Salem Avenue was named a National Title I Distinguished School last year.

Corwell-Martin said the school has started a mentoring program for students and has recruited the Washington County Commissioners to participate along with other members of the community.

The school also has reached out to the business community. Phoenix Color is sponsoring the mentoring program this year, and Hoffman's Meats and the Salem Avenue 7-Eleven have set up a scholarship fund for Salem students.

To help improve instruction, the school installed a reading program in which students read books and then take a test on a computer. Students earn points that go toward rewards such getting their picture taken with the principal or having the school named after them for a day.

The involvement of parents and other members of the community has been essential, parents and teachers said.

"We care what goes on in that school, and it matters what kind of education they get," said Heidi Nave, president of the Salem Avenue PTA.

Donna Dayhoff, president of the Salem Avenue Community Advisory Council, said she and other parents reactivated the organization after it had been dormant for several years.

"We have a lot of parent involvement now," said Dayhoff, whose daughters attend kindergarten and fourth grade at the school. "That makes a big difference in the learning environment."

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in a statement that the Blue Ribbon schools can serve as models for other ones.

"Anyone who wonders about the future of public education in Maryland need only look at the marvelous programs and instruction going on at these excellent schools," she said.

Spong said seeing the school in action is the only way to appreciate its accomplishments.

But while it is relatively easy to identify the ingredients that make good schools - active parents, motivated teachers and a strong principal - Bartlett said it is hard to replicate one school's achievements in other schools.

"In the past, we have not been able to transfer success to other schools," he said.

The Blue Ribbon designation comes with a $1,000 award, instructional materials and a chance to compete with schools from across the country for national recognition.

The U.S. Department of Education will review the applications in January and will visit schools that meet the criteria in February.

Maryland's General Assembly will honor Salem Avenue Elementary and the other Blue Ribbon schools on Jan. 25, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening will do the same at a gala on April 27.

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