Vidalia Junior High awarded

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

VIDALIA — A local school has been nominated for national recognition for their academic gains.

Vidalia Junior High School has been nominated as a Blue Ribbon School, a designation under the No Child Left Behind Act that recognizes schools that make significant progress in closing the achievement gap between their lowest and highest-ranked students.

VJHS was one of six Louisiana schools nominated this year, something Principal Whest Shirley said was an honor.

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“If you are one in only six, you must be doing something right,” Shirley said.

Schools granted blue ribbon status are recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., and are used as models for other schools around the nation.

A school has to meet one of two criteria for recognition as a Blue Ribbon School. At least 40 percent of its students from a disadvantaged background must improve performance to high levels on tests and a school must have students who achieve in the top 10 percent of their states’ standardized tests.

When the school first received the nomination, Shirley said it didn’t initially grab his attention.

“We just get so caught up in doing what we are supposed to every day that I really didn’t think about (the nomination) too much,” he said.

It was when school Counselor Billie Byrd mentioned the nomination to Superintendent Loretta Blankenstein that Shirley realized its significance.

“Based on her reaction, I figured out it was a bigger deal than I thought it was,” he said.

The school’s success can be partially attributed to a concern for students more than tests, Blankenstein said.

“They are not only concerned about improving test scores but about improving learning,” she said.

“They have a really good spirit about it. They feel like they are just doing their job, and this is their reward for it.”

This year the school started after school tutoring, a program that is essentially a remedial spelling, vocabulary, reading and comprehension program, Byrd said.

They have also continued previous programs in which students and parents can come in after school hours to take practice LEAP and iLEAP tests, and in March they will resume mock testing in preparation for those tests.

“They can come in and take a practice test and get immediate feedback from the instructors, all of whom are our certified teachers,” Byrd said.

Likewise, the school hosted workshops on Saturday mornings in which students worked on writing, math and test-taking skills, Byrd said.

“Last year, we probably had 70 percent of our total school working in these programs,” she said. “We had a very good response to it.

“We had to subdivide the after school programs because we had so many students staying.”

Those projects were all funded by Title I money, Shirley said.

The administrators credited two factors in the school’s success.

“My job is pretty easy because I work with good teachers,” Shirley said.

It is important to recognize teachers when a school does well, but there are others who factor into the school’s total success, Byrd said.

“The teachers are there and they are willing to go to the nth-degree to help these students to be successful, but kudos have to go to our students because they are also the ones who work so hard,” she said.

The school will find out mid-fall if they have been granted Blue Ribbon status.