5th County School Earns National Blue Ribbon

POCOMOKE — Pocomoke Elementary School (PES) became the fifth school in Worcester County last week to receive a National Blue Ribbon designation.

“When everyone works together for the same goal, the barriers to learning disappear and everyone benefits. Shared responsibility gets results. Our motto states it best: ‘Every child achieving; every adult contributing’,” said PES Principal Michael Browne.

PES was previously a Maryland Blue Ribbon School but was upgraded by U.S. Secretary of Education Ann Duncan this month to the federal recognition. The promotion was not entirely unexpected. At PES, 97.7 percent of last year’s third graders scored proficient or advanced on the 2012 reading and 98.8 percent in math on the Maryland State Assessment (MSA).

Receiving a National Blue Ribbon status is not solely about test scores, though.

“The first step is to be recognized by the Maryland [State] Department of Education (MSDE)…it looks beyond just test scores once you get to the national level,” said Browne.

He acknowledged that a lot had to do with “test programs in place” but that MSDE takes a comprehensive, big picture approach when examining a school.

In 2011, PES was acknowledged as a National Title I Distinguished School for “sustained student achievement.” It also holds the distinction of being the only school in the state to be a Panasonic National School Change Award Winner. Finally, PES received the highest possible Gold designation as a Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports school, as awarded by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson remarked on the amount of effort it takes to reach the peak that PES currently represents.

“In order to earn the National Blue Ribbon School designation, a school must believe that every child can and will achieve and that every child can successfully rise to meet new challenges,” said Wilson. “We applaud Pocomoke Elementary School as well as its former leaders and students.  It is a celebration for us all.”

After learning of the new designation, Browne was quick to credit current Pocomoke Middle School (PMS) Principal Todd Hall, who formerly led PES up until this year, for getting the school to the point where it is now.

“Under the leadership of former Principal Todd Hall, we approached the 2012 MSA with the same determination as we always have and the results were fantastic,” said Browne.

He added that “this celebration should also be shared with Pocomoke Middle School students” since the efforts they made in years past while studying at PES paved the way for the original Maryland Blue Ribbon status as well as the recent National Blue Ribbon designation.

For his part, Hall further spread out the recognition, remarking that all Worcester County schools are “an extended family.”

“We all work together, our schools and our community, to help prepare our students for success well beyond the walls of any individual school,” he said. “We have a shared responsibility in preparing them for success in life. We take that commitment seriously.”

PES joins the list of other Worcester National Blue Ribbon schools alongside Ocean City, Showell, and Snow Hill Elementary and Stephen Decatur Middle School, giving the county the largest concentration in the state.

Nine of Worcester’s 12 eligible schools are also at least Maryland Blue Ribbon, which is a stepping stone to the national recognition.

“You have to be Maryland Blue Ribbon before being identified as National Blue Ribbon,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. John Gaddis.

Gaddis also confirmed Browne’s point that every aspect of a school is measured when a school is considered for Blue Ribbon accreditation, though test scores are critically important.

“It’s broad-strokes but they definitely pay attention to what the test scores are,” said Gaddis.

In large part, it is Gaddis’ job to help all schools prepare for the upcoming statewide switch to the “Common Core Curriculum,” which will introduce a new educational strategy and assessment. While Gaddis called it “a new frontier,” he clarified that none of the current Blue Ribbon schools will have to worry about keeping their status. As for schools looking to receive the distinction at first the state and then national level, he said that the game plan remains the same.

“From what we’ve been told, it will still be based on student performance,” said Gaddis of the new curriculum.

Browne added that at PES the “main focus now is to change over to Common Core,” pointing out that the school already has some of that infrastructure in place.