By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – Saltillo High School received one of the most prestigious distinctions given to K-12 schools on Thursday when it was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
It was one of three schools in Mississippi to receive the honor, which recognizes its scores on standardized tests students took during the 2009-10 school year. Saltillo High is the first school in the Lee County district to win the honor.
“It is a Super Bowl of schools,” said SHS English teacher Janice Fleming. “For us just to be nominated is an honor.”
Saltillo was one of 305 schools in the country to be named Blue Ribbon Schools this year. The other Mississippi schools are Kathleen Bankston Elementary in Greenwood and North Bay Elementary in Biloxi.
Schools can win the award in two ways. They can rank among their state’s highest performing schools on state tests. Or, if at least 40 percent of their students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they can earn it by showing significant improvement on state tests.
Saltillo High met both criteria.
“We are extremely proud of all of the staff at Saltillo High School and also at Guntown Middle School, which also had a share in this,” said Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott. “I don’t know of a greater honor for schools in the country.”
Saltillo High School Principal Tim Devaughn and Fleming will travel to an awards ceremony in Washington on Nov. 14-15.
“This is more of a recognition for teachers, students and the community than it is for me,” Devaughn said. “I’m a small part of this.”
Devaughn said the school’s teachers really bought into several things the school and district were trying to do, such as developing tests and pacing guides that could be used across the district to measure student progress. He said that each of the school’s departments often met on their own to discuss the job they were doing.
The 885-student school also developed prep classes for students before they take the four state-tested subjects: biology, algebra, U.S. history and English II. Those classes have been successful, Devaughn said.
“Everyone in the building worked really hard,” said Devaughn, in his 18th year as an educator and fifth as the school’s principal. “This is the best staff I’ve worked with in education.”
Devaughn said that winning the award was not a goal of the school. Rather, Saltillo’s staff focused on being successful and improving student test scores and performances, and the recognition was a byproduct of that, he said.