Wrangell school earns distinctive award

Posted: Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wrangell School District's Evergreen Elementary is one of two schools in the state to be recognized with a Blue Ribbon Award.

Principal Therese Ashton and teacher Arlene Wilson were in Washington, D.C., this week to accept the award.

The Blue Ribbon Schools Program was started in 1982 as a standard of excellence for both public and private elementary, middle and high schools across the United States. Of the more than 138,000 schools in the U.S., a little more than 6,000 awards have been given out in the past 28 years.

There are two ways a school can be nominated for the award: high performance or improvement to high levels. For high performing schools, state testing results are compared to national norms and must exceed those. For improvement to high levels, at least 40 percent of disadvantaged students must have improved to high levels in reading and math.

Ashton said Evergreen was actually nominated under both categories. Nominations must be made by state departments of education a year in advance.

Ashton said they already had consistently high test scores, but in the past three years they've increased further.

"Last year the staff got an incentive award from the state of Alaska," she said. "The kids maintained that and improved test scores. Last year, we had 100 percent proficiency with third, fourth and fifth graders in math."

Reading is almost at 100 percent for all students.

"We're a fairly small school, about 130 kids right now," she said. "It's just a wonderful thing to have your kids at proficiency level and higher than proficiency level."

Ashton credits the success to the consistency and stability in the teaching staff, paired with a small and supportive community. She said class sizes are small and teachers know all their students - enough to recognize when something isn't working with a student.

"We have a really good adult ratio to these students," she said. "We can find out what the challenge is before it becomes a big difficulty to them."

Ashton said they will take a moment to celebrate their success with the award, however they will still strive to find ways to improve.

"Kids are facing different challenges than we faced when we were in school," she said. "We need to best prepare them for that future. That future is not very clear. We're just trying to get the skills to the kids to adapt to change and put their best foot forward in the world. We're prepared to do it and we'll keep working on it."

The school is planning on having a public ceremony in Wrangell sometime in February to celebrate the award.

The other Alaska school to earn the Blue Ribbon award this year is Aurora Borealis Charter School in Kenai.

For more information on the program, go to: http://bit.ly/9o7NHC.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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