Elementary school nominated for Blue Ribbon Award

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 10:24 p.m.

Southmoreland Elementary School is in the hunt for some national recognition.

The school was one of 13 in the Commonwealth to be nominated for the 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award.

Superintendent John Molnar made the announcement at the Jan. 3 meeting of the school board.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students levels of academic achievement. The program has been in existence since 1982. In that time, more than 7,000 schools have received the award from the U.S. Department of Education.

The nomination was submitted by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis.

“National Blue Ribbon Schools serve as models for other schools throughout the nation and their achievements our shared on the United States Department of Education website,” Molnar said. ”The award is a standard of excellence for all schools striving for the highest level of achievement.”

Honored schools receive a plaque and flag to signify National Blue Ribbon status.

Southmoreland Elementary School has until Feb. 22 to apply for the award.

Those who are chosen are honored at an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. in the fall.

“I've known about Blue Ribbon Schools for many years and there was a time where any school could apply for that,” explained John Lee, elementary school principal. “They changed that and you have to be nominated to be applying for the award.”

Lee said a committee of teachers have been assembled to help work on the application process.

“I'm very excited for this opportunity to share this award if we get it. I'm hoping we do,” Lee said. “Hopefully, we will be able to show Southmoreland Elementary pride as we always do.”

This nomination comes on the heels of Southmoreland Middle School recently being selected as one of 10 Breakthrough Schools in the country through the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in conjunction with MetLife.

“I am absolutely so proud of the students, the staff, the faculty and the administration,” Molnar said. “They worked very hard and made significant improvements over the last five years. That hard work has paid off. I'm most excited for kids. It's a concrete indicator for us that our kids are being well prepared at the elementary level.”

Also, the board is expected to vote tonight on whether or not to approve a plan for districts involved with the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center to help foot the bill for approximately $9.1 million in repair costs.

Representatives from the 37-year old technical facility near New Stanton came to the Southmoreland School Board meeting Oct. 4 explaining their plight.

The school's roof, electrical and mechanical systems are all original to the building, which opened in 1975. Upgrading the mechanical system is expected to cost more than $4 million, while roof replacement and electrical upgrades are expected to carry a price tag of $4.3 million.

All nine member districts must approve the project. Along with Southmoreland, they are: Belle Vernon, Hempfield, Penn-Trafford, Jeannette, Greensburg Salem, Yough, Mt. Pleasant and Norwin. Frazier students also attend classes there, but the district is not part of the consortium of districts of CWCTC.

The cost to Southmoreland if Frazier is involved in paying would be $52,957 a year for 15 years. If Frazier is not involved, it would be $57,573.68 a year.

It would not affect the Southmoreland budget until 2014-15.

School Director Ken Alt expressed his displeasure that these issues weren't addressed previously.

“It really bothers me,” he said. “Now we have to step up to the plate. I really don't like that. We don't have the money for it.”

School Director Josie Kaufmann, who serves on the CWCTC joint operating committee, said the committee hopes all school districts vote in favor of the payment.

“We would hope all nine districts would recommend it,” she said. “If one district says no, it's totally off the board. It's not about making the building look pretty. It's absolutely necessary.... This school deserves to be livable and healthy for our kids.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or ppaterra@tribweb.com.

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