Meherrin Elementary’s improvement lauded

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2007

COURTLAND—A designation by the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday marks Meherrin Elementary School in Newsoms as one of the nation’s most improved schools.

One of just 287 schools across the country named as 2007 No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools, Meherrin will be honored during a special Washington, D.C., awards ceremony in November.

&uot;It’s pretty big stuff,&uot; Southampton School Superintendent Charles Turner said in making the local announcement Tuesday. &uot;I’m just elated.&uot;

Ten Virginia schools, including three private and seven public elementary schools, were chosen for the national honor.

The No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools that are either academically superior or that demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement to high levels, according to the Department of Education.

All seven of the Virginia public schools represented on the list were cited for &uot;dramatically improving student achievement, despite having a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds,&uot; a Virginia Department of Education press release stated.

&uot;By putting a school-wide emphasis on quality instruction and by believing that all children can succeed, these schools made their dream a reality,&uot; said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Billy K. Cannaday Jr., who nominated the schools for federal recognition.

Meherrin was selected because at least 40 percent of its students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the school has dramatically improved student performance to high levels on state tests.

The school’s performance on the state’s Standards of Learning tests has soared since the 2001-2002 school year, when dismal scores meant that fewer than 60 percent of students were meeting or exceeding state standards in any tested subject.

During the 2005-2006 school year, 87 percent of Meherrin’s third-graders met or exceeded state standards on their reading SOL test. The results for third-grade math were even better, with 96 percent meeting or exceeding state standards. Fifth-graders improved still more, with 97 percent meeting or exceeding math standards and fully 100 percent meeting or exceeding reading standards.

&uot;These schools are proving that when we raise the bar, our children will rise to the challenge,&uot; said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. &uot;It takes a lot of hard work by teachers and students to become a Blue Ribbon school, and it’s a privilege to celebrate their great efforts.&uot;

Southampton’s Turner said he is &uot;immensely proud&uot; of Meherrin’s accomplishment, and he commended the school’s staff, students and parents for their contributions to the effort.

Meherrin was fully accredited under Virginia’s achievement-based accountability system in 2006-2007, and it met the complex definition for so-called Adequate Yearly Progress for 2007 under the No Child Left Behind Act.

A Title I school, Meherrin provides free or reduced-price meals to 61 percent of its school population, and it provides a breakfast program. Minorities account for 58 percent of the school’s enrollment.

Those statistics helped the school meet the disadvantaged-background portion of the award’s criteria.

But it was the hard work that students, teachers and parents did to raise test scores that made the difference.

&uot;Our vision and mission of the faculty, staff and administration of Meherrin Elementary School — with the combined efforts of our families and community — is to establish a community of lifelong learners by providing a solid foundation for each student through education, social and cultural experiences which will enable the student to develop to his or her maximum potential mentally, physically, emotionally and socially,&uot; the school states in its application for the award.

&uot;Even though we have performed very well in recent years on our state standards, as well as having met national standards, we continue to strive toward exceeding the set standards and improve instruction for our students.&uot;

A total of 413 schools across the nation were nominated for the award.

The other Virginia public schools chosen for the recognition are Elk Knob Elementary in Pennington Gap, Fancy Gap Elementary in Carroll County, Shady Grove Elementary in Glen Allen, Sharon Elementary in Clifton Forge, Tazewell Elementary in Tazewell County and W.H. Taylor Elementary in Norfolk.