Sixteen area schools receive awards

January 21, 2011

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

Sixteen local schools were honored Thursday with state awards for advanced learning and achievement, and the Henry County and Patrick County school divisions were among only nine in the state to receive system-wide awards.

The awards program, created by the Virginia Board of Education in 2007, recognizes schools and divisions that “achieve excellence goals and far exceed minimum state and federal accountability standards,” according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Education.

The awards, called Virginia Index of Performance (VIP) Awards, recognize schools and divisions based on the percentage of students who achieve advanced scores on state Standards of Learning tests and progress toward educational goals adopted by the board of education.

Three area schools earned the highest award in the program, the Governor’s Award for Educational Excellence. They are Rich Acres Elementary in Henry County, Patrick Henry Elementary in Martinsville and Meadows of Dan Elementary in Patrick County, according to the DOE news release.

To qualify for that award, schools must meet all state and federal benchmarks for at least two years in a row and achieve excellence goals in various categories, including elementary reading and participation in the Virginia Preschool Initiative, if applicable. They can earn bonus points for other initiatives.

Henry County Schools spokesperson Melany Stowe said there isn’t a single reason for Rich Acres’ success; rather, there are many factors. The school has received a VIP award for four years and has been fully accredited for seven, she said.

“Rich Acres Elementary School has had a long tradition of excellence,” Superintendent Anthony Jackson said in an e-mail. “This recognition confirms and recognizes that they truly embody our belief as a school division, that all students are entitled to a high quality education rich with rigorous academic opportunities.”

Jackson congratulated the school’s principal, Elizabeth Minter, as well as students, parents and “all of our community partners who have contributed to their success.”

Martinsville Schools Superintendent Pam Heath said she is “very, very proud” of Patrick Henry’s achievement, just as she is proud of examples of excellence in all the city’s schools. To achieve the governor’s VIP award, a school must earn points in numerous areas, Heath said, ranging from SOL scores to programs such as offering foreign language at the elementary level and taking part in a nutrition and health initiative.

Patrick Henry met those benchmarks despite the challenges that go along with being a high-poverty school, as are all the city’s schools, Heath noted.

Roger Morris, superintendent of Patrick County Schools, said Meadows of Dan’s achievement is particularly impressive because two years ago, the school was only provisionally accredited in history. He credited Principal Jeannie King, teachers and students with making adjustments in teaching methods and working together to improve student performance.

To do that, teachers provided extra help to students who needed it and worked with parents, he said. Morris noted that because the school is small — with only about 130 students — “there really is a ‘no child left behind’ application to it because if one child fails, you notice it very visibly on test scores.”

That is because the benchmarks demand that a certain percentage of students pass the tests, and one student accounts for a larger percentage in a school with 130 pupils than in one with, for example, 750, Morris said.

A total of 110 schools in Virginia, or 6 percent, earned the top VIP award. No school divisions received it.

Both Henry and Patrick counties’ school systems and six of their schools earned the Board of Education’s Excellence Award, the second highest honor in the program.

Stowe said the achievement reflects excellence in each of Henry County’s 14 schools.

“Really it speaks volumes to every school because every school’s (data) is included,” she said. “If any school had significantly low” scores, “the division would not have received that recognition.”

She noted that last year, 57.5 percent of students in Henry County Schools earned advanced passing scores on one or more SOL tests. That means they not only passed but excelled.

Morris, who credited teachers, parents and entire community for his system’s achievement, said the award is all the more difficult to attain because federal benchmarks increase each year.

“I guess that’s what makes this extra special,” he said. “We’re continuing to achieve as the requirements continue to get harder.”

Eight school systems and 323 schools (17 percent) in Virginia earned the second-tier award. It is given to schools and divisions that have met all state and federal accountability benchmarks for at least two consecutive years and “have made significant progress” toward educational goals set by the board, the release said.

The schools earning the board’s excellence award are Carver and Sanville elementary schools and Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School in Henry County; and Patrick Springs and Woolwine elementary schools and Patrick County High School in Patrick County.

Seven schools in Henry and Patrick counties earned the third type of award, the board’s Competence to Excellence Award. A total of 289 schools (16 percent) and one school division earned that award, the state release said.

To reach that mark, schools must meet all state and federal benchmarks for at least two consecutive years, and they must be making progress toward the goals of the governor and the board of education, the release said.

The Henry County schools to earn that award were Campbell Court, Drewry Mason, Mount Olivet, Stanleytown and Irisburg (now Axton) elementary schools and Magna Vista High School. In Patrick County, Stuart Elementary earned the Competence to Excellence Award.

Jackson expressed pleasure at all the schools’ awards.

“This most recent recognition by Gov. (Bob) McDonnell and the Board of Education is another measure for students, parents and the community to be proud of and to be assured that Henry County Public Schools is a high-performing school division,” Jackson said in a statement. “Our students are receiving an exemplary education and I hope the community will celebrate this achievement with us.”

No Martinsville schools earned the second- and third-tier awards. Heath said she did not have access Thursday to details about how the city’s schools, or the division as a whole, fared in their evaluations. But she noted that to earn the Board of Education Excellence Award as a division, a system must meet state and federal benchmarks for two consecutive years.

“This year we were one of only 12 divisions that made” federal benchmarks as a division, she said. “But we missed it last year by one or two areas,” so the division could not meet that requirement.


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