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20110923_SISD_blue-RibbonMISSION — Junior highs at in the Sharyland Independent School District are two of 26 Texas public and private schools to receive a 2011 Blue Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education last week.

“When the person from (the Texas Education Agency) called in the spring about the nomination, they were actually excited,” said Superintendent Scott Owings this week. “If you look at that list, even the huge cities that have more than one, many of them are magnet campuses. I think that’s an extra feather in their cap that we’re regular public school campuses and have both of them in the same year, like, that is just really fantastic.”

Nationwide, SISD’s Sharyland North and B.L. Gray junior highs are two of over 300 recognized schools. The schools will be formally honored at an event in Washington, D.C. in November.

The National Blue Ribbon School award honors schools for overall academic excellence or for their success in closing achievement gaps. SISD schools received the award for dramatically improving students’ performance to higher levels on state tests. They were able to improve tests scores for at least 40 percent of their students.

“Schools like the B. L. Gray Junior High School are providing an exemplary education to our students in the Rio Grande Valley,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar. “I have seen first-hand the importance of earning and education—it opens many doors to the future. Today’s announcement of B. L. Gray Junior High School being a top school in the country is a clear reminder that we can achieve academic success if we are committed and determined to do so.”

Cynthia Wilson, principal at B.L. Gray Junior High, said staff has been able to look at their different populations within the school, provide curriculum at a higher level and focus more on students that aren’t succeeding in the classroom.

“I think our whole approach has been a total team effort approach; one team, one goal,” explained Wilson. “That’s been very instrumental because it’s not only the reading and the math teacher, it goes across all disciplines.”

But there’s always room for improvement.

“Our philosophy is, ‘Nothing less than your best,’ and if you go in thinking that each day, I can’t be disappointed with what they give me if they give me their best,” she said.

Sharyland North Junior High Principal Leticia Leal said everything teachers and staff have done at the school has been focused and intentional in implementing new strategies with the curriculum to help students achieve better grades.

“Whatever we did, there was always a reason for it. The rigor and relevance isn’t anything new. Any great teacher has always done activities, strategies that were relevant to a child,” said Leal. “And as long as he knows that there is a reason for him to do it, he’ll do it.”

With those changes, students improved each year. And with new standardized testing this year, Leal is confident. The district did well last year with staff development focusing on rigor, said Leal.

“The really great teachers were always doing it,” she said. “We just need to make the good teachers great.”

Owings said he is very proud of the two principals, their staff and students for doing a good job.

“We have very strong principals in Sharyland. It takes leadership like that to bring all those things together,” said Owings. “It’s the overall effort of everybody working together and that takes strong leadership. I think there’s over 8,000 campuses in the State of Texas and only 26 received this, so that’s pretty great.”

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