Atholton High wins national award for excellence HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION

June 07, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Change has come about at Atholton High School, and students and teachers aren't the only ones to notice.

The U.S. Department of Education gave the school a Blue Ribbon designation, a national award for school excellence, last week. Six or seven years ago, Atholton applied in the same competition but didn't get past the state level.

This year, Atholton is one of 10 schools statewide and 250 others nationwide to win the award, part of an 11-year-old program that recognizes schools that exhibit qualities required in tomorrow's schools: strong leadership, active parent participa

tion, a sense of mission, a high-quality teaching staff and a rigorous curriculum.

Principal Scott Pfeifer rode an emotional roller coaster for most of this year as he waited for word on the award. He and his staff had applied in October.

"I'm really excited," he said. "I think it's a confirmation of the good things that go on at the school."

"It's certainly a fine school," said Edward Curran, a New York high school principal who observed Atholton for two days. "I found a strong educational program that involves the vast majority of kids at the school. I found the administrators and the teachers to be very strong, very committed to doing a quality job."

Mr. Pfeifer and other winners will go to Washington, D.C., this fall for an awards ceremony in which they will receive a plaque and a specially designed flag to fly over the school.

Mr. Pfeifer praises the county public school system, which he says built a good foundation with strong academic and support programs. He credits the change at Atholton to a five-year partnership with W. R. Grace and Co., which has provided more than $500,000 in equipment and manpower for science education.

"The partnership fostered a spirit of innovation and experimentation among the staff because of all the opportunities that were available," said Mr. Pfeifer. "There's been an infusion in the culture of the school -- an acceptance of innovation."

Next year, Atholton, along with Howard High, will be pioneering four-period days to allow their students to take more than six credits a semester. Atholton has been a pioneer in other areas: The school piloted the highly acclaimed peer mediation program that all schools now use, and it initiated a cross-curricular program that integrates schoolwork for ninth-graders, a program that the county's two new high schools plan to adopt.

"Taking steps to pilot programs is something we would not have done six years ago," said English teacher Karl Schindler, who has been at Atholton for 11 years. "We really have a feeling of getting there and trying things without worrying about negative feedback coming to us."

Business teacher Ronnie Bohn said the school had gone through three principals in three years before Mr. Pfeifer took over five years ago.

"The stability has obviously helped," she said. "This has allowed the staff to work together cooperatively to try new things with constant leadership in place."

Atholton students have praise, too. "It's better than most around, according to friends who go to other schools," said John Green, a 16-year-old sophomore. "It's a lot more organized."

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