St. Simons Elementary earns national recognition

The island school was among 57 schools in the United States named 2020 National ESEA Distinguished Schools, which recognizes extraordinary success of students.

“Like all schools in Glynn, our staff, families and students work extremely hard each and every day for student success,” said Katy Ginn, principal of St. Simons Elementary. “This year has been particularly difficult due to COVID as we have tackled distance and virtual learning, engaging families despite COVID restrictions and maintaining a focus on student support and success.

“It is very encouraging for our school to be recognized nationally for the dedication of our teachers, students and families.”

The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (NAESPA) selects examples of superior, federally funded school programs for national recognition through the National ESEA Distinguished Schools program, which has been in place since 1996. The organization celebrates the efforts of schools across the country that are making significant improvements.

The program acknowledged the success of hundreds of schools in one of three categories, which include exceptional student performance and academic growth for two or more consecutive years, closing the achievement gap between student groups for two or more consecutive years and excellence in serving special populations of students.

St. Simons Elementary was recognized in the second category, closing the achievement gap between student groups.

“Our application specifically focused on parent involvement initiatives, our ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program and our school’s Ocean Lab,” Ginn said. “We analyzed student achievement data for various subgroups over a three-year period, particularly focusing on student growth.”

The national recognition is given each year to two of the highest performing Title I schools in every state, and in Georgia the top-performing five percent of Title I schools are eligible to apply. Elm Street Elementary School in Coweta County was also honored.

“St. Simons Elementary and Elm Street Elementary are both working hard not just to improve students’ academic achievements but to expand the opportunities available to them,” said state school superintendent Richard Woods. “This is a well-deserved national honor for the faculty, staff and students of each school.”

The honorees are selected based on academic achievement as determined by the school’s CCRPI score, including the year-over-year increase in score, poverty level and initiatives implemented over the past two years that resulted in outstanding academic achievement among traditionally underserved subgroups of students.

This marked the third consecutive year St. Simons Elementary was eligible to apply for the award, Ginn said.

“Staff at St. Simons Elementary School have paired high-quality, individualized instruction with robust parent engagement to close achievement gaps and improve the performance of economically disadvantaged students, English learners and students with disabilities,“ according to a release from the Georgia Department of Education. “Schedules and instruction are built around individual student needs, and an innovative Ocean Lab program provides opportunities for students to study and explore the local beaches and habitats, focusing on the state science and math standards, with an emphasis on conservation and preservation.”

St. Simons Elementary had a CCRPI score of 92.9 in 2019 and is a past recipient of the state education department’s Family-Friendly Partnership School Award.

Glynn County Schools Superintendent Scott Spence said the national recognition is well deserved.

“As a school system and a county, we have always felt that St. Simons Elementary has a very active parent presence, wonderful teachers, great leadership and most importantly hard working students,” he said. “This award certainly validates what we have always believed to be true.”

Each winning school will receive a $20,000 grant from the GaDOE Title I, Part A program to support registration for the school team to attend the virtual national ESEA Conference, and to support the school’s Title I initiatives.

The 2020 National ESEA Distinguished Schools will be honored Feb. 8-11 at the virtual 2021 National ESEA Conference.

Ginn said staff members plan to participate in the event.

“We have several staff members who will participate in professional learning throughout the week, and our school will be highlighted at an award ceremony during the conference,” she said.

The recognition is welcome in the midst of a tough school year for educators nationwide, Ginn said.

“Teachers and staff across our district and country go above and beyond every day for student success,” she said. “We are humbled by this recognition and grateful for the support of our school community.”