AUTRYVILLE — With energy and excitement, Deborah Welker walked around her classroom as she taught reading to a group of fourth-graders.
With 20 years of experience, the English Language Arts educator enjoys teaching in a school with active parents and community support. She’s just one of many teachers making history in Sampson County. After earning an A ranking for the second consecutive year, Principal James Mullins and the staff were thrilled to hear news regarding accomplishments in the classroom. The school is now a National Blue Ribbon School.
“We worked really hard to get to this point and we’re finally being recognized,” Welker said about the national honor. “It’s a great place to work, but it also goes back to the leadership. We’ve got a great leader, people work and get a job accomplished.”
The announcement was made Monday by Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education. Clement Elementary is the first from Sampson County Schools to receive the distinction.
“The work that our students and teachers have put in has been recognized all the way in Washington, D.C.,” Mullins said.
The Exemplary High Performing Schools’ recognition is based on the overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Clement Elementary exceeded growth on the state’s academic performance measures and received the grade of “A” for its School Performance Grade on North Carolina’s school rating system.
Mullins said it was a team effort and testament to the work of students and their teachers. For the achievement, he also credited district leaders, central office employees, the school board and parents. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the National Blue Ribbon Schools’ honor “affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.”
“We recognize and honor your important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives,” Devos stated in the announcement.
Clement Elementary is one of just 349 schools in the United States and one of eight in North Carolina to earn the distinction. T
he mission of the school, with 370 students, was referred to as “Building the Future” by providing the best education possible through a partnership with the community, home and school. A few years ago, a major focus was placed on improving the education levels of different subgroups such as the economically disadvantaged, exceptional children and ethnicity. To improve testing scores, remediation steps were taken. Progress was made from after-school tutoring and remediation steps during the day.
“Any kid that was not at grade level received extra help,” Mullins said. “Over the course of two years, our school proficiency has improved from 60 percent to 91 percent, which is the highest in the district. So all of our subgroups are performing well, but it’s because teachers are providing extra help.”
When it comes to traditional schools, Mullins added that out of more than 40 counties east of Raleigh, Clement Elementary has the best proficiency rate. It’s also ranked fourth in the entire state for elementary schools.
“We have identified kids who were struggling and we provided the extra help and, because of that, most of our students are at grade level right now, and you get an award like the 2018 National Blue Ribbon School,” he said.
Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy is also excited about the accomplishment.
“As our community continues to recover from the recent hurricane, it is a boost to learn that our own Clement Elementary School is receiving recognition at the highest level,” Bracy stated in a news release from Sampson County Schools. “I applaud the work of the staff and administration at the school in setting high expectations and supporting students in reaching their goals. This is an honor for all of Sampson County.”
Sue Matthews, a fourth-grade math teacher, has spent close to 30 years at Clement Elementary, where she plans to retire.
“All of the teachers work together as a team,” Matthews said. “We’re just really excited that we got it and our principal is awesome.”
Clement Elementary will be recognized in November at an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. In the meantime, Mullins expressed how the school will not rest on its laurels — especially after missing more than a week of school because of Hurricane Florence.
“This stuff is good, but we’re not satisfied because we have a a few kids who struggle and we want to help them,” Mullins said. “We want to maintain and grow the kids who are at grade level, but we’ve got some kids who are not quite where they need to be and we want to continue to work with them.
“Success is great, but we’re not going to sit back and say ‘we’re a Blue Ribbon School,’” Mullins said. “We’re going to keep working hard and student achievement is going to continue to improve at this school. We’re going to continue to have high expectations.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.