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Salem Avenue Elementary School celebrates national Blue Ribbon

August 27, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

After a year of hard work, Thursday was an evening of celebration for the Salem Avenue Elementary School, which was named a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, an award educators say goes only to the best of the best.

Salem Avenue is one of 10 elementary schools in Maryland and 266 in the nation recognized as models of teaching and learning by the U.S. Department of Education.

About 95 administrators, teachers, parents and support staff gathered at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel on Dual Highway to celebrate their achievement.

"The teachers have a can-do attitude which trickles down to the students," said David Unruh, Salem Avenue principal.

The Hagerstown school was the second in Washington County in two years to receive the distinction. Hancock Middle/Senior High School took the honor a year ago.

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Former Principal Vincent Spong lead the Salem Avenue Elementary School to a Blue Ribbon victory on a state level last November before taking the national award this year. He retired on July 1.

"I'm very proud. It's the crowning jewel of my career," said Spong.

Spong said the achievement took teamwork and dedication by the entire school.

"The faculty worked well together. They set goals and analyzed what they needed to improve and stayed the course," he said.

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 Affairs and the Council for American Private Education.

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

Spong said the award is particularly meaningful because many of the students are socio-economically disadvantaged - about 58 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunches. The school has 465 students in the pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.

He said he is pleased with his former school's win and would like to see other Washington County schools do the same.

"It's what the community should expect and if that's pressure than so be it," he said.

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