Chadds Ford Elementary School has been named a 2008 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. U. S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings made the announcement Sept. 9.To say that people at the school and in the school district are ecstatic would be an understatement.
"We are smiling broader and walking bolder," said Unionville Chadds Ford School District Superintendent Sharon Parker. The staff, students and community deserve this."
NCLB is a federal program that requires states to set achievement standards and testing for public school performance in exchange for continued federal revenue.
"These Blue Ribbon Schools are an example of what teachers and students can achieve," Spellings said in a press release.
The school was asked by the Department of Education in December to apply for the blue ribbon status, but it won the recognition by scoring in the top 10 percent of state schools in the PSSA test given in
April. It's one of 12 schools in the state and 320 schools across the country to receive the award this year.
It was school Principal Mark Ransford who phoned Parker with the news, and Parker said she told him she'd be right over.
Ironically, Ransford - who is in his second year as principal - had already called a school assembly before getting the news himself. He was about to start the assembly when he was notified that he had a phone call from Harrisburg.
He said he let someone else lead the assembly while he took the call. He then phoned Parker. After she arrived, Ransford made the announcement to the student body.
"You could hear the cheering all the way to Avon Grove," said Parker.
Ransford said his first reaction was that of pride, "A lot of pride," he said, adding, "I was ecstatic for the families of Chadds Ford, for the community. It's a great honor that was given to the school but for me it's an expression of the community."
Ransford and Lisa Yackel, the school's counselor and head teacher will take part in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., next month where they will receive a plaque and a flag signifying their NCLB-Blue Ribbon School status. There will be another ceremony at the school, he said, but no date has been set.
Critics of the program say it has the effect of states lowering standards and of having teachers "teach to the test."
Ransford said that Chadds Ford Elementary avoids that by teaching students how to take tests - since they will be doing that all throughout their school years - but also by teaching to the standards set forth by the state, not teaching to the test.
"We give them skills to take tests, tests like the PSSAs," Ransford said. "But when you have a curriculum that's standards-based, that's based on the standards and the test is based on the standards, every day the teachers are teaching, they're basing their lessons on the standards. Are they teaching to the test? No, they're teaching to the standards, and the tests are based on those standards."
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Education, "schools must make Adequate Yearly Progress, in reading (language arts) and mathematics."
To that end, Ransford said Chadds Ford Elementary School still has a way to go in that his goal is to achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014. He was not certain of the percentage the school had this year, but it was not 100 percent.
Elementary school students taking the PSSAs were in the third, fourth and fifth grades.