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Salem Elementary earns national Blue Ribbon

May 19, 1999

Salem Elem.By BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Salem Avenue Elementary School has been named a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, a prestigious award educators say is the highest honor a school can achieve.

Salem Avenue Elementary is the second Washington County school in two years to receive the award from the U.S. Department of Education.

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It earned the state's Blue Ribbon designation last November.

Salem Avenue is one of 10 elementary schools in Maryland and 266 in the nation recognized as models of teaching and learning. Official notification is scheduled to come May 25.

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"It feels great," said Principal Vincent Spong. "It's a celebration to know that it's happened. There's an internal feeling of satisfaction."

"It's the icing on the cake for a year that's been pretty incredible," said Curriculum Coordinator Carol Corwell-Martin. She was the 1998 Teacher of the Year and co-authored the Blue Ribbon application with teacher Cindy Scott.

Corwell-Martin said the award recognizes Salem Avenue's growth and improvement over the past five years. "We pinpointed curriculum, raised expectations and increased community involvement," she said.

The school's collaboration makes it great, she said. "It's just this sort of whole atmosphere of looking out for other people," she said.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said the school's award is the "plum," a milestone in educational achievement. "There's no question it's the biggie."

Salem Avenues students succeed despite some socio-economic disadvantages, he said.

About 58 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunches, according to Corwell-Martin.

Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., called Spong Tuesday evening to tell him the news. On Wednesday morning, Spong amended a banner hanging on the school building that read, "Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence."

He taped over the word "Maryland," replacing it with "National."

Spong gave credit to his faculty, students and community. "It's just a wonderful group that works here," he said. "Everybody pitches in."

The students believe in themselves and their spirit spreads, he said. Spong is retiring after 16 years as principal but the award gives him a good finish, he said. "It's the way to go out."

The school has 465 students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.

"We knew we had a great school, but to be recognized at the national level, we're just ecstatic," said Donna Dayhoff, president of the Salem Avenue Citizens Advisory Committee.

Sarbanes said in a press release that the Blue Ribbon designation is "a ringing endorsement of the successful techniques which enable the students of these schools to succeed and achieve."

State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick also praised the winners. "We are proud of the standards set by these schools and the fact that they act as valuable resources to other schools in Maryland."

Blue Ribbon status is awarded to schools that have strong leadership, high quality of teaching, challenging curriculum, policies that ensure a safe environment, a commitment to family involvement, a clear vision and sense of mission shared by the community.

Schools submit 40-page applications, which are screened by the Department of Education, the Department of Defense Dependent Schools, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Council for American Private Education.

The nominations are forwarded to a panel of educators from across the country who then make recommendations to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Applause greeted the award announcement from Theresa Flak, assistant superintendent of instruction, at the Washington County Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

"We are pleased as we can be," she said. "This is truly a shining example of what we hope education can be in Washington County."

Noting that Hancock Middle/Senior High School earned the award a year ago, she likened the odds of duplicating that accomplishment to lightning striking twice in the same place.

"Washington County is on a roll," said Darla Strouse, Blue Ribbon program director for the Maryland State Department of Education.

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