U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Thursday that Dr. J. Michael McGrath Elementary School in the Newhall School District has been named one of 255 National Blue Ribbon public schools. A total of 304 public and private schools have been recognized. Only 21 schools in California were honored with this prestigious award this year and McGrath is the only school in Santa Clarita to be selected.
“The teachers, along with the wonderful support staff, have worked to insure that every child achieves, regardless of language background or socioeconomic status,” said Larry Heath, principal. “My teachers are the reason we have been so successful and they deserve national recognition. They are leading the way and showing that students of poverty and who are still learning English can perform at the highest levels in a public school. When it comes to working with poor second language students, the teachers here are restoring something that too many people feel has been lost in American public schools. Hope.”
The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private schools that are either high performing or have improved student achievement to high levels, especially among disadvantaged students. The program is part of a larger Department of Education effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about best school leadership and teaching practices. Each year since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education has sought out schools where students attain and maintain high academic goals, including those that beat the odds.
To qualify for the Blue Ribbon McGrath had to repeatedly make “adequate yearly progress” with its disadvantaged student population, as defined by No Child Left Behind. By achieving steadily escalating state test scores over time and a steadily increasing Academic Performance Index, the school was first recognized as a State Distinguished School and a federal Title I Achieving School. Those awards qualified McGrath for the ultimate federal recognition and former State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell nominated McGrath for the award last year.
“We are very proud of this school’s teachers and administrators,” said Marc Winger, superintendent of the Newhall district. “This is arguably one of the most instructionally challenging student populations of any elementary school in California and they are being served well by this outstanding staff. They have earned this high level of recognition.”
Principal Larry Heath and a teacher representative have been invited to Washington, D.C. to receive their award from the United States Department of Education. They are planning a celebration for the students which will occur after their November 14th visit to D.C.
“McGrath is one of those lighthouse schools that others should study and emulate,” said Suzan Solomon, president of the governing board of the Newhall District. “This is one of the many rewards the McGrath teachers and principal deserve for the work they do every day.”
In a press release announcing the Blue Ribbon schools Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “America’s long-term economic prosperity and civic engagement depends on our children receiving a world-class education. National Blue Ribbon Schools are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their success is an example for others to follow.”