Rich Acres earns honor

September 16, 2011

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

Rich Acres Elementary School made history on Thursday.

The school, which serves about 325 students in prekindergarten through fifth grades, became the first school in Henry County to earn National Blue Ribbon School status. Rich Acres was one of only six public schools in Virginia to receive the honor from the U.S. Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Education announced Thursday.

Acting Henry County Superintendent J. David Martin shared the news with Rich Acres staff Thursday afternoon.

“This is a huge deal,” he told the teachers and guests, including several central office administrators. “This is a true first in Henry County.”

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program was established in 1982 to honor the country’s most successful schools, according to a news release. Schools apply and are selected because they either make dramatic gains in student achievement, helping close gaps, especially among minority and disadvantaged students; or achieve academic superiority, the release said.

The award is based on five years’ worth of data.

Martin said Rich Acres was among schools recognized for helping students make great improvements. According to the release, schools in which at least 40 percent of students come from disadvantaged backgrounds that raise achievement on state assessments or national standardized tests may qualify.

According to Rich Acres’ application, 74 percent of its students were eligible to receive free or reduced lunch in the last school year. Eligibility for free or reduced lunch is a federal benchmark of poverty.

At the same time, Rich Acres students have excelled on state Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, the application says.

“Rich Acres has far exceeded the state standards (70 percent passing),” it says. “In fact, students’ passing scores in reading and mathematics have consistently increased from the 90th percentile towards a school goal of 100 percent. The 2009-2010 VA SOL reading test results were 97 percent passing and 99 percent passing in mathematics.”

The percentage of “passed advanced” scores, or students who earn between 500 and 600 points on the 600-point tests, has increased 11 percent in reading and 33 percent in math during the past five years, the application says.

Furthermore, there are no gaps between the test scores of subgroups and all students at Rich Acres, according to a news release from the county schools.

Rich Acres also has met federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and has been fully accredited for the past eight years. It has been recognized by both Gov. Bob McDonnell and Gov. Tim Kaine for its success.

According to Martin, that success is the result of the hard work of many individuals over a long period of time.

“This just didn’t happen this year,” he said. “This happened many years in the making.”

For that reason, he recognized current Principal Beth Hussey as well as Elizabeth Minter, who was principal from 2008-09 through last school year, and Bill Bullins, principal from 1992 through 2007-08.

Martin presented them with a copy of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss to commemorate the achievement.

Quoting from the book, he said, “Congratulations! Today is your day. ... And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.) Kid, you’ll move mountains!”

Addressing the teachers and others in attendance, Martin said, “Thank you for moving mountains to ensure that every child at Rich Acres succeeds.”

Hussey, Minter and Bullins credited the work of the school’s 45-person staff, which includes 17 teachers, as well as former staff, with the success.

“I think the teachers took an interest in all of our students, no matter what background, and provided the resources and instruction they needed” to do well, said Bullins, who left Rich Acres to become director of elementary instruction for the school system, a job he still holds.

Teachers have provided extra help, remediation and more for each individual student, the educators said. They also have the support of parents and the community, which is essential, they added.

Hussey, who is in her first year as principal, said she is humbled to follow the success of Bullins and Minter, who left Rich Acres last year to become principal of Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School.

“It is such an honor for Rich Acres Elementary School to receive the 2011 National Blue Ribbon Award,” Hussey stated. “We are very proud to be the first school in Henry County to receive this prestigious award. An amazing team of teachers, staff, students, families, administration and community members work collaboratively every day to take care of the academic, emotional and physical needs of each individual student. Even with this national achievement, the goal of Rich Acres Elementary School will continue to be to aid our students in becoming lifelong learners and respectful citizens.”

Each of this year’s 255 public and 49 private 2011 National Blue Ribbon Schools will be honored Nov. 14-15 in Washington, the release said. Martin said the school system also will celebrate here with events for the school, including retirees, and for students.

He said he hopes other schools in the system will follow in Rich Acres’ footsteps.

“This paves the way for other schools,” he said. “The bar has been set.”

The five other Virginia public schools to receive the honor this year are Rocky Mount Elementary in Franklin County, Belmont Station Elementary in Loudoun County, Kemps Landing Magnet School in Virginia Beach, Springville Elementary in Tazewell County and Richmond Community High School. Five private schools also received the honor.

Last year, Patrick Springs Primary School in Patrick County earned Blue Ribbon status.


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