By Kim UnderwoodWinston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 7 – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recognized Whitaker Elementary School this morning as one of 269 schools in the country honored as 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools.“We’re just so excited,” said Principal Brenda Herman. “It’s a great affirmation of the good things that are happening here with the parents, students and staff.”The strength of each one of those three elements – students, staff, parents – is what makes Whitaker such a good school, Herman said. “It’s really all of those components coming together.”
Whitaker has about 600 students and a staff of 65. In praising the support of parents, Herman said that, on any given day, you might see as many parents as staff members at the school.
Schools could be chosen based on their overall academic excellence or for making progress in improving student academic achievement levels. Whitaker, one of nine schools in North Carolina nominated for the award, was considered in the Exemplary High Performing category. Duncan was scheduled to make the announcement at 10 a.m. this morning from one of the other Blue Ribbon Schools - Arlington Traditional Elementary School in Arlington, Va. The announcement was streamed so that people at other schools could tune in. Herman wanted to let everyone in the school know about the honor at the same time, and she thought watching the announcement would be a good way to do that. So she had teachers bring Whitaker’s 600 or so students into the gymnasium.
“I was sworn to secrecy and could not tell anyone until 10 o’clock this morning,” she told them. “You have worked so hard. We have the best boys and girls. We have the best teachers. . . . We’re the best of the best and we have a lot to celebrate.”
Tammara Cappel, who teaches second grade, was a member of the committee that provided supporting materials after the state nominated Whitaker. She said that Whitaker is a school where expectations are high and the atmosphere is nurturing.
“Our motto is ‘A place where excellence begins,’” she said. “Each day is your day to be excellent. . . . The academics are very rigorous. The teachers are constantly reflecting on their practices. The teacher is just as much a learner as the student.”
Lindsay Mikesell, the assistant principal, said that she was really excited about the recognition. “It’s a big honor,” Mikesell said. “We have a really good span of educators who do an awesome job with our kids.”
Bobby Stern, the school’s curriculum coordinator, talked about teachers who meet the students where they are each day and help them move as far forward as they can. He also talked about parental support that makes possible such enrichment programs as an after-school science club. “We have such a strong group of parents who are willing to give of their time and services.”
Amy Morrow, the president of the Whitaker Elementary PTA, said, "We are incredibly honored to receive this recognition, which is due to the dedication and commitment of our teachers, administration, parents and, most importantly, students."
Steve Oates, the school system’s assistant superintendent for elementary schools, said: “We are extremely proud of the Whitaker school family. The staff, administration, students and families have consistently demonstrated excellence as a school community. This is a well deserved honor.”
In November, Herman and one teacher from Whitaker will go to Washington for the recognition ceremony.
“Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential,” Duncan said in a news release. “Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future.”
In its 30-year history, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has recognized nearly 7,000 schools. In the “Exemplary High Performing” category, schools are recognized as being among their state’s highest performing schools, as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. In the second category - “Exemplary Improving” - schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds demonstrate the most progress in improving student achievement levels as measured by state assessments or nationally-normed tests.