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Southmoreland Elementary named National Blue Ribbon School

| Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Congressman Tim Murphy (left) presents Scottdale Elementary School Principal John L. Lee Jr. with a certificate of special congressional recognition for the elementary school receiving a 2013 National Blue Ribbon award by the U.S. Department of Education.
Rachel Basinger | for the Daily Courier
Students at Southmoreland Elementary School recently wore blue to recognize the honor the school received by being named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School. From left are (front) Jonathan Askey, David Dougan, Raegan McKelvey, Vincent Ledbetter, Ben Baker, Logan Andrews; (middle) Addie White, Ben Zahrobsky, Nolan Blaze, Charlotte Neal, Alyson Gaborko, Penny Weaver; (back) Ben Zimmerman, Superintendent John Molnar, Brooke Stewart, Makayla Harvey, Chloe Gillott and Principal John Lee.
Rachel Basinger | for the Daily Courier
Blue wristbands in recognition of the honor Southmoreland Elementary School received by being named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School.

To the credit of Southmoreland School District administrators, teachers and staff, Southmoreland Elementary School has been named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education.

Timothy Scott, assistant superintendent of the district, said the journey of Southmoreland Elementary is truly an amazing one, dubbing it going from the “outhouse to the penthouse.”

“One would be challenged to find a school anywhere in the nation to have gone from School Improvement I (under No Child Left Behind) to being named a Blue Ribbon recipient in just five years,” he said.

The school was just one of 13 schools in the state that was nominated for the honor, being nominated by Ronald Tomalis, former secretary of education for Pennsylvania.

The school was just one of 236 public schools and 50 private schools across the nation to have been given the honor.

John Lee, school principal, said the award is given to those schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' levels of achievement.

“This really shows a lot of hard work on the part of our staff and our parents,” said Lee. “They all helped to turn the school around from being in school improvement to being nationally recognized and that speaks volumes to how hard everyone works.”

Superintendent John Molnar said it's the district's commitment to focusing on results, collaboration between teachers and using viable curriculum.

“This is a testament of a total culture of collaboration that we've been able to put into place,” he said. “It ensures a guaranteed viable curriculum for all students and it's something I believe in. It's a process that's been put into place that works well.”

Scott said focused collaboration is now embedded in the district's culture and team meetings are “the engine that drives the improvement process across the district.”

He reiterated what Molnar said, adding that the process that makes the district successful includes believing that the purpose of the school is to ensure that all students learn at high levels, high levels of learning require a collaborative effort and using results of student learning to identify students who need intervention and enrichment.

“The National Blue Ribbon is our nation's most prestigious educational award and serves as validation for the drastic change the district embarked upon, beginning at the middle school in 2003,” Scott said. “I have yet to find a school district in Pennsylvania with over 50 percent of students economically disadvantaged that outperforms Southmoreland and I'm still searching.

“Ours truly is an amazing success story,” he added. “Rather than chasing suspect educational initiatives, the Department of Education should be inquiring from us to learn how to raise the bar and close the gap for all students in terms of learning.”

The Parent Teacher Association at the elementary school recently sponsored a day where all the students wore blue to recognize the achievement.

“We wanted the parents, faculty and staff to see that we recognized the accomplishment,” said Kristy Smith, PTA president. “We are so encouraged and excited for the school and we wanted to have a day set aside to show our appreciation for all their hard work.”

Rachel Basinger is a contributing writer.

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