U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recognized 269 schools as 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools based on their academic excellence or for making progress in improving student academic achievement levels.
"This achievement represents a truly cooperative effort between our teachers, administrators, students and families," Windber Superintendent Rick Huffman said in a telephone interview. "But the children are the biggest winners. They're mastering the skills and concepts that will help them succeed today and in the years to come."
It is the first time that Windber elementary has won the National Blue Ribbon Award, but that school has won state recognition in the past. U.S. News & World Report named Windber Area High School as one of the best high schools in the nation.
"It is a team effort, obviously," Huffman said. "The system we have in place works. We get great support from the community and the parents. We have a good professional development program in place and we have a dedicated staff. We have a great group of kids to work with. Our students are being prepared to continue their success in the future."
This accomplishment didn't happen overnight; it was built on the shoulders of all those who have come before, the superintendent said. Windber's motto is pride and tradition: The goal of high academic standards is passed down from parents to students.
Representatives from Windber will join U.S. Department of Education officials when the department honors 219 public and 50 private schools at a recognition ceremony Nov. 12-13 in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, praised Windber.
"The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program sets a standard of excellence for all schools and students striving for the highest level of educational achievement," Critz said in a written statement. "I'm proud of the teachers, administrators and students at Windber Elementary School. Their hard work and dedication to learning is a shining example not only in our region but now across the United States. Congratulations, Windber Elementary School, and keep up the good work."
The National Blue Ribbon program recognizes schools in one of two performance categories. The first category is "Exemplary High Performing," in which schools are recognized among their state's highest performing schools, as measured by state assessments or nationally accepted tests. The second category is "Exemplary Improving," in which schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds demonstrate the most progress in improving student achievement levels as measured by state assessments or nationally accepted tests. Windber Area Elementary School earned recognition in the latter category.
Windber serves 614 children in kindergarten through grade five, 270 of whom qualify as economically disadvantaged. During the past five years, the district has virtually eliminated the achievement gap between poorer students and those with greater financial resources, according to the administration. In 2006-07 only 61 percent of disadvantaged students in the fifth grade scored proficient or advanced in math on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, as compared with 81 percent of all students. By 2010-11, 100 percent of the same subgroup performed at or above grade level in math, compared with 95 percent of all fifth-graders.
The reading proficiency gap between economically disadvantaged students and all students was 19 points in 2006-07. By 2010-11, 76 percent of disadvantaged students scored at or above grade level in reading, as compared with 83 percent of all fifth-graders.
Results of the 2011-12 PSSA will be released at the end of September.