By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun
8:35 PM EDT, September 17, 2012
The students of Medfield Heights don't have a National Blue Ribbon greeting them at the door or a name that has historically been synonymous with elementary school excellence. But this year, the North Baltimore school earned a distinguished title all its own: It's now the home of the "Three-Peat."
Joined by members of the community, as well as city school and political leaders, Medfield Heights celebrated its third year in a row ranked No. 1 among the city's 120 elementary and middle schools in overall performance on the Maryland School Assessments. And this past year, the school scored highest in both reading and math on the assessments, which are administered to students in grades three through eight.
"We're happy to celebrate the success, and the fact that it's been three years in a row is gratifying," said Anthony Japzon, principal at Medfield for six years. "But I'm just a small part of the story, and it's really a byproduct of good teaching and learning. As a staff, we don't think we've reached our capacity. We believe we can get better."
Against the backdrop of banners, including the most recent that pronounced the "Three-Peat" achievement, and a soundtrack of hundreds of voices singing Katy Perry's "Firework" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," students clad in gold, silver and bronze medals celebrated at a pep rally at the school Monday. The medals are a tradition the school started five years ago to reward students for their achievement on the tests.
"It's because of stuff like this the students want to learn," said Diann Smith, the parent of a third-grader. "It's a great school, though our success is not as pronounced. You see other schools on the news, but we see them every day, and we're just so proud."
City schools CEO Andrés Alonso and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke were on hand to hang medals around students' and teachers' necks.
"It's fun and nice to get medals," said Destiny Whitt, a fifth-grader who scored advanced, the highest level, on the 2012 assessments. "They make me feel like a champion."
Medfield is one of the most diverse schools in the city. Among the 400 students, 30 percent are black and 30 percent are white; 21 students are from five different continents; and 13 percent speak English as a second language.
In the past five years, Medfield has more than doubled the number of students scoring advanced at the school and noted a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in overall proficiency in math and reading.
"It's super-cool," said Claude Nichols, a fourth-grader. "I became the best because I worked really hard at my house and always got 100 on my tests."
The school is also among the handful in the city whose special education students consistently meet proficiency levels; the vast number of high-performing schools fell short with that population. And it's the only school in the city that fully includes special education students in classes with their peers, supported by a co-teaching model in all grades.
Teachers attributed Medfield's performance to the school's data-driven approach to teaching, in which teachers study student data all year, use it to focus instruction and even share it with their students to discuss their progress and help them set goals for themselves.
"To see the growth from the beginning of the year to the end of the year is just amazing," said fourth-grade teacher Rita Tate, whose class had 96 percent of its students score advanced or proficient on the tests. "It makes me feel great and strive to do better because we are really closing the gap.
"There are so many stereotypes out there," she added, "and our kids — they are doing this."