School Is County’s 4th National Blue Ribbon Winner

BERLIN – Stephen Decatur Middle School this week was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, joining three other schools in the county public school system to earn the coveted distinction.

Last December, Decatur Middle was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, which is pre-requisite for consideration for the national honor. Just nine months later, school officials learned this week Decatur Middle was one of 314 schools in the entire country honored with the national award. Decatur Middle Principal Dr. Mel Ross made the announcement over the school’s public address system around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, breaking the relative quiet of an early school morning and touching off a brief celebration among the students and faculty.

“Our school earned the attention of our state and country because of your efforts,” Ross told students and staff over the intercom. “It clearly was possible because we have a serious student body, an outstanding faculty and a supportive community. This designation is about you and your commitment to excellence.”

To be considered a National Blue Ribbon School, schools must first be selected as a blue ribbon school in their state. State-level selections are based on student performances on state-mandated assessments related to the federal No Child Left Behind mandates. Once designated as a state blue ribbon school, the state’s Department of Education submits a nomination for the national award.

Results from the 2009 Maryland School Assessment (MSA) exams affirmed Decatur Middle is one of the top-performing schools in the state and beyond. For example, 92.5-percent of the students were proficient or advanced in reading, while 93.3-percent were proficient or advanced in mathematics. Perhaps even more noteworthy, 61 percent of SDMS students scored at an advanced level in reading while 55 percent scored at an advanced level in math.

Worcester Schools Superintendent Dr. Jon Andes pointed out the atmosphere for education in the county shared an important part in the successes of the students at Decatur Middle.

“SDMS is a phenomenal school, a top-performing school in the state,” he said. “Student successes would not be possible without the strong support of our Board of Education and our County Commissioners.”

Andes said the National Blue Ribbon Award for SDMS was as much about community service as it was about achievement in the classroom.

“In addition, school successes go beyond test scores,” he said. “Decatur Middle students are outstanding models of community service.”

For example, Decatur Middle students last year donated over three tons of food to the 2008 Harvest for the Hungry food drive to help replenish the Maryland Food Bank. In addition, SDMS eighth graders removed four tons of noxious phragmites from Assateague as part of a community service collaboration with Assateague State Park and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Teacher accolades at SDMS are equally impressive. With nine National Board Certified (NBC) teachers on staff, Decatur Middle has the highest concentration of NBC teachers of any school in Worcester County. It is also home to 2007 Maryland Teacher of the Year Michelle Hammond.

With the announcement this week, SDMS joins three other county schools – Ocean City Elementary, Showell Elementary and Snow Hill Elementary – as National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. Seven of the county’s 12 eligible schools have been name Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools.