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2 area schools earn national recognition
Mount Yonah, Big Creek earn blue ribbon status
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Blue ribbons are given out for many things: Prize-winning jams, science fair projects and art show submissions, to name a few.

And for two area elementary schools, blue ribbons mean more than just winning. They mean being honored at the national level for high achievement.

Mount Yonah Elementary School in White County and Big Creek Elementary School in Forsyth County were both named national Blue Ribbon Schools on Thursday.

"I'm so proud," Mount Yonah Principal Dana Magill said. "The school is abuzz with excitement, pride and fulfillment. We give it 120 percent each day, and for our efforts to be recognized is great."

Mount Yonah is the first White County school to be designated a Blue Ribbon School.

"I am very proud of Dana Magill, her faculty and staff.

They are committed to excellence and work hard every day to assure that all of their students reach their potential," White County Schools Superintendent Jeff Wilson said in a news release.

Blue Ribbon Schools are chosen in two categories: high performing schools, which scored in the top 10 percent of student achievement, and dramatically improved schools, which demonstrate improved achievement in at least 40 percent of economically disadvantaged students.

The schools are nominated at the state level based on standardized test scores, but the designation comes a year later if the school makes Adequate Yearly Progress.

Forsyth County Superintendent Buster Evans said he likes that about the process, even though it can leave school systems in "a high degree of anxiety" for 10 months to make sure nominated schools make AYP.

"Sometimes we see schools get awarded for good things and then the next year, the bottom drops out," he said.

Mount Yonah was honored in the improved category because of its work to close the achievement gap of economically disadvantaged students and the average score all students.

In 2010, 90.7 percent of students met or exceeded math standards and 95.9 percent met or exceeded in reading.

The economically disadvantaged subgroup had 86.2 percent and 94 percent meet or exceed in math and reading, respectively, Magill said.

The 2011 scores show continued improvement.

In math, 93.4 percent of students met or exceeded the standard, and in reading, 96.2 percent met or exceeded.

The economically disadvantaged subgroup had 90.8 percent and 94.4 percent of students meeting and exceeding the standards as well.

Magill said the increases in test scores comes from how data-driven Mount Yonah Elementary is. She said students are screened three times a year and children who need remediation receive constant instruction and weekly progress checks.

"We know our kids, we know what they need, and we give it to them every day," Magill said.

Big Creek got its Blue Ribbon School designation in the high performance category.

This isn't the first time the school has gotten the honor, however.

"We had gotten it in 2001, but that was prior to school testing being in place," Big Creek Principal Sherri Black said. "You nominated the school yourself."

Black said at least 80 percent of students in grades three, four and five met or exceeded state test standards in all content areas.

"We are excited, we are thrilled," Evans said. "It really reflects a lot of the work on student achievement, great parent involvement and leadership there."

There were 304 schools nationally named Blue Ribbon Schools. Big Creek and Mount Yonah were honored among several other Georgia schools — Calhoun High School, Fulton Science Academy, Peachtree City Elementary, Shirley Hills Elementary, Timber Ridge Elementary and Trion Elementary.

The winning schools will be honored at an awards ceremony on Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.