Elementary schools in Hope, Solon recognized with national award

Posted Sept. 10, 2012, at 8:11 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Elementary schools in Hope and Solon were among 269 selected nationwide this year for the U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 National Blue Ribbon School award.

With 100,000 public and private schools in the nation, it is a high honor, federal education officials indicated.

Hope Elementary School, a K-8 school in the small Knox County town of Hope, was recognized for the customized programs it offers its students. The school also was recognized for its emphasis on student and staff leadership.

In Somerset County, Solon Elementary School was honored for its efforts in building lasting connections with parents and the community, as well its goals for improving student performance.

Though some of the winners turned around poor performing schools, the Hope and Solon schools were in the “exemplary, high-achieving” category.

The Maine Department of Education nominated the schools for the honor, which meant faculty, administrators and community members had to dig up supporting documentation to make the case for their excellence in the extensive application process.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Hope Elementary Principal Carol Hathorne said Monday. Town Administrator Jon Duke joked that he’d have to build another wing on the school to house all its awards.

The blue ribbon commission liked Hope Elementary’s emphasis on leadership.

“The student leadership is a big deal,” Hathorne said. As a K-8 school with 176 students, who attend Camden Hills Regional High School after graduating, faculty and administrators encourage the older students to be leaders among their peers and the younger children in the building.

A student council was created that allows students in grades five through eight to serve. The older students run for offices. The idea, Hathorne said, is to create a representative form of government within the school and allow students to work within it.

A student leadership team also was formed which, beginning this year, will take on a service learning project in the community.

A similar representative form of governance exists among faculty and staff, Hathorne said. There are teacher teams for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and for the art, music, physical education, French and guidance staff. Each has a leader who meets with Hathorne twice a month to make recommendations and give feedback on decisions.

“I’ve been in this business long enough to know it’s not all about me,” said Hathorne, a 40-year education veteran who has been in Hope for 12 years. Education is “not something done to them,” she said of teachers and students, but “something done with them. Nothing is top down.”

The Hope school also was recognized for its drama, yearbook, math team and athletics offerings. Hathorne said since students do not attend a middle school, it is important to give them those extra-curricular activities at the elementary level.

In Solon, Principal Jean Butler also was pleased to see her pre-K through grade five school recognized. The school was honored for its success in building ties with parents and the community.

“That’s always been an emphasis for our school,” she said, informing and involving parents.

With just 112 students and some staying in the building up to seven years, “We get a chance to know them,” she said of the parents.

Teachers are encouraged to send home newsletters and plan events that bring parents into the building. A math night and a literacy night have parents and their children working together. “Those have been very successful,” Butler said.

The school also offers ways for parents to help their children with school work at home.

Solon Elementary’s veteran faculty also was recognized.

“They’ve worked together a long time, and they work well together,” said Butler, who is in her 18th year at Solon.

The Solon educators also regularly analyze student test data to tweak methods and curricula to improve results.

In announcing the awards last week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “Great schools don’t happen by chance. Great schools happen by design.” Both principals said the individualized nature of the honor — reflecting more than test scores — highlighted such design.

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