SOLON — Solon Elementary School is a small school with a big vision.

With eight teachers and 110 children in pre-kindergarten through grade 5, Solon is one of only two schools in Maine to be recognized as a U.S. Department of Education 2012 National Blue Ribbon School. Hope Elementary School, in Hope, is the other school.

The award, given by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this week, identified Solon staff members and students as people who celebrate successes and set targets for improvement.

Principal Jean Butler said schools are judged in two categories in the Blue Ribbon School program — high performance and improvement.

“We were selected for high performance,” Butler said. “The staff has worked for a lot of years together. It’s a great staff. They work very closely together. Performance is a high priority.”

Butler said teachers paid close attention to performance standards and testing and regularly analyzed test results to set improvement goals for the whole school, classrooms and individual students.

She said parents also play a big role in high performance because of the support they show in their children’s education.

Solon parents and students agree, saying education is delivered in many forms, including new ideas for learning and trying healthy foods at school.

“I feel that the great thing about the school here is they are very involved with the kids, teaching them to keep healthy,” Laura Erskine, a mother of three elementary school children, said of the school’s nutritious snacks and running and fitness programs. “My son says every day, ‘Oh, we got to try this today.’ Its all about trying new things, foodwise, such as fruit and vegetables.”

Parent Leslie Giroux said open lines of communication at the Solon school has led to success.

“A big key I think is communication — between the teachers themselves and communication with parents,” Giroux said. “The communication is great. The fifth-grade teacher knows the kindergarten kids just as well as he knows his own kids. The atmosphere is so good. Everybody is so positive.”

Butler said the school also was recognized for successes in professional development and curriculum.

“It’s fun to learn,” said fourth-grader Courtney Peabody. “They explain it to us and if we don’t get it, they explain it again until we get it.”

Fifth-grader Skyler Chipman agreed.

“They always help you learn. They have amazing strategies that help them learn a lot more,” Skyler said.

The Blue Ribbon award is based on results of state assessments for grades 3-5 called New England Common Assessment Program, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

Solon students scored in the top 10 percent of schools in the state, Butler said. The results are based on testing done during the 2010-11 school year. Third-grade scores were not included in test results because of low enrollment, she said.

Of the students in grade 4, 82 percent met or exceeded state standards for reading and for mathematics. Of grade 5 students, 93 percent met or exceeded standards in reading and 86 percent did so in mathematics.

The state target for meeting or exceeding the standards was 75 percent in reading and 70 percent proficiency in mathematics.

The Solon school also was recognized in 2009 as a Title I Distinguished School.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen praised the school for its 2012 award.

“As we seek approval for a better and fairer way of holding our schools accountable, these two schools show us the importance of not only identifying struggling schools, but recognizing ones that are making great progress, too,” Bowen said in a news release.

Since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education annually has sought out schools where students attain and maintain high academic goals, including those that beat the odds, according to Bowen.

In its 30-year history, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed the award on nearly 7,000 American schools, including nearly 50 in Maine.

Butler said she and one of her teachers will travel to Washington, D.C., in November to accept the award.

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