Excellent example

October 04, 2007

Amid news about the often-dismal state of Baltimore's schools, George Washington Elementary School has been an emerging example of excellence. Last December, it was named a state Blue Ribbon school, and this week, it was honored by the federal Department of Education as a national Blue Ribbon school. While the designation is a tribute to everyone associated with George Washington, the school should be the norm in the city, not an aberration.

Located in a low-income area of Baltimore near Camden Yards with about 250 prekindergarten through fifth-grade students, George Washington is rightly being recognized for academic strength while also offering proof that the achievement gap, mainly among minority and white students, can be bridged.

At George Washington, not only did at least 90 percent of third- and fourth-graders score at the proficient level on this year's state reading and math assessments, but nearly half are performing at the advanced level. When Principal Susan Burgess took over the school in 2003, only 32 percent of third-graders had even passed the reading test.

George Washington's formula for success includes many tried-and-true elements of effective schools, including strong leadership, small class sizes, high-quality teachers with low turnover, a focus on the curriculum with some creative detours, and a variety of after-school and extracurricular activities.

Teachers spend a lot of their own time collaborating and jointly planning how to help students individually and collectively, a practice that the teachers union is fiercely - and unwisely - resisting citywide, causing a stalemate in current contract negotiations.

These characteristics need to become routine and widespread, not confined to a small subset of schools. City school officials should be singularly focused on securing sufficient financial resources and the right personnel to replicate George Washington's success throughout the system. It's not magic.

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