Sugar Hill Elementary School was announced as a National Blue Ribbon School on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private schools where students perform at high levels, or where significant improvements are being made in students’ academic achievement, according to the program’s website.
“We have a high minority population here, (and) we had made some gains despite poverty,” said Principal Beth Skarda.
The Hispanic population at Sugar Hill is 80 percent, she confirmed.
Sugar Hill Elementary was listed as an exemplary improving school, with an at least 40 percent disadvantaged student population. Students at these schools have made the most progress in “improving student performance on state assessments or assessments referenced against national norms in reading and mathematics in the most recent five years,” a state press release said.
A Hall County press release noted 92 percent of Sugar Hill students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. There are 730 students in the school, Skarda said.
In 2013, reading scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests from Sugar Hill saw more than 90 percent of third- and fourth-graders meeting or exceeding the CRCT standards. Fifth-graders meeting or exceeding standards were at 88.6 percent.
Math scores were at 75.9 percent for third-graders, and 88.7 and 89.7 percent for fourth and fifth grade, respectively.
“They’ve just had pretty incredible improvement in both reading and mathematics over the last five years,” said Superintendent Will Schofield, attributing that improvement to a “focus on classroom instruction.”
“It’s pretty amazing when you consider the percentage of students (whose) primary language is not English,” he added.
Skarda said that to help improve test performance at the school, special programs have been put into place for students.
“One of our biggest programs that made us grow ... (is a) morning tutoring program,” she said. For students who arrive to school before the day begins, tutors are in place to help in specific subject areas.
“We tutor for math, we tutor for reading, we’re very specific about what a child needs,” Skarda explained. “Also during that time, for the kids that don’t need tutoring, we have enrichment classes.”
Enrichment classes include anything from theater to knitting, she said.
“Those teachers and that community have really worked hard to support those students,” Schofield added.
The Blue Ribbon program has been in place since 1982. Sugar Hill is the first Hall County school to be recognized, school officials said.
School representatives will be honored at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19, and the school itself will receive a plaque and flag with the official Blue Ribbon School seal.
Sugar Hill is one of nine Georgia schools on the list of 2013 Blue Ribbon Schools. There were 286 schools recognized nationally.