Decatur Middle Earns State Blue Ribbon Designation

BERLIN – Worcester County’s highly decorated public school system added another feather to its cap yesterday when state education officials named Stephen Decatur Middle School a Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

With the announcement yesterday, Stephen Decatur Middle joins six other Worcester County public schools that have received the prestigious award including in no particular order Ocean City, Showell and Snow Hill Elementary Schools, along with the three public high schools in the county, Stephen Decatur, Snow Hill and Pocomoke. With Decatur Middle entering the fold this week, seven of the 12 public schools eligible for the honor in Worcester have now earned Blue Ribbon status for one of the highest percentages in the state.

Stephen Decatur Middle was honored as a Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in large part for its outstanding performance on the 2008 Maryland School Assessments (MSA). At least 92 percent of students tested in grades seven and eight were deemed proficient or advanced on the 2008 MSA exams in both reading and mathematics.

Worcester Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes had high praise for Decatur Middle’s recognition as the county’s latest Blue Ribbon school. He also praised the commitment of the school community, its teachers and staff, parents, the students and the county government.

“The high level of success at Stephen Decatur Middle School is due to the leadership, faculty and staff of the school, coupled with our terrific students, great parents and strong community support,” he said. “The success of SDMS would not be possible without the leadership of our Board of Education and the support of our county commissioners. The support of our county commissioners has allowed us to reduce class sizes, add portable classrooms to provide additional teaching space and maintain the after school and summer school programs. These initiatives have made this recognition possible. SDMS opened in 1997 and the success of the school continues to be phenomenal.”

According to Stephen Decatur Middle Principal Dr. Mel Ross, who, along with Andes, participated in the recognition ceremony at the State Board of Education’s meeting in Annapolis yesterday, earning Blue Ribbon status only affirms what the school has accomplished in the decade or so since it opened.

“The best aspect of being formally recognized as a Maryland Blue Ribbon School is the affirmation it gives to our staff, students and parents for their combined efforts to excel,” he said. “With our high expectations and our ability to analyze and respond to the academic needs of each student, I think we have always been a school of excellence. Getting a stamp of approval from the state is an added bonus.”

The success of Stephen Decatur Middle goes far beyond test results on assessment exams. Accredited by the Middle School Association of Schools and Colleges since 2001, SDMS is home to eight National Board Certified (NBC) teachers, representing the highest concentration of NBC teachers in the school system.  In addition, SDMS is home to the 2007 Maryland Teacher of the Year Michelle Hammond and a 2009 Maryland Teacher of the Year State Finalist Amy Gallagher.

Enrichment is a key focus at Stephen Decatur Middle and two-thirds of the school’s students participate in an after-school program that extends the school day and heightens academic achievement. In addition, over half of the student body belongs to one or more of the following: the National Junior Honor Society, Student Government Association, Beta Club, Peer Mediators, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), and Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA).

In addition to high academic achievement and enrichment, students at Decatur Middle have also exhibited a strong belief in community service. Each year, SDMS students participate in a service learning initiative in collaboration with UMES and Assateague State Park, and this year the school’s eighth-graders helped remove four tons of invasive phragmites from the barrier island’s landscape. The goal was to remove the destructive plants in order to help restore the habitats of native birds, fish and plants.

Stephen Decatur Middle School students have also rallied to help those less fortunate in the community. In these tough economic times, the Maryland Food Bank faces critical shortages in supplies, but Decatur Middle School students answered the call. In November, SDMS students collected and donated over three tons of food items for the Maryland Food Bank during the 2008 Harvest for the Hungry Food Drive.

With the announcement yesterday, Decatur Middle joins six other Worcester County public schools in achieving Maryland Blue Ribbon School status and the state school board will now submit SDMS into consideration for a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award. Three other county schools, OCES, Showell and Snow Hill Elementary, have been recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools.