VHS snags national award for high academic achievement

VHS Principal Susan Hanson reads the award announcement to students. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
VHS Principal Susan Hanson reads the award announcement to students.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Students cheered wildly on Friday as Vashon High School Principal Susan Hanson delivered the news: Their school had just won a prestigious, national award because of their high performances last year on standardized tests.

“You have demonstrated your commitment to excellence,” she told the applauding teens. “Your teachers have demonstrated their commitment to excellence. You’re one of the best schools in the country.”

The U.S. Education Depart-ment, in an announcement last week, named Vashon High School one of four schools in Washington and 320 nationwide to win the 2008 “blue ribbon school” commendation — an award established as part of the Education Department’s No Child Left Behind program. Vashon joins the ranks of 28 other Washington schools that have achieved the status over the past five years, when the blue ribbon school program was started.

Schools are selected on the basis of two criteria — either because the school has a high number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who saw significant gains in their test scores or because students scored in the top 10 percent statewide on standardized tests. Vashon was recognized for the latter accomplishment.

Hanson, before the assembly Friday, said she was thrilled by the news.

“It’s just amazing. We’re so excited,” she said.

Vashon achieved the award, she said, because of the high school’s noteworthy combination of dedicated teachers, strong students and engaged parents.

“These teachers and these students work really hard. And we’ve been developing good, strong relationships with their parents,” she said. “We’ve been lucky in having all three — kids who work, teachers who work and parents who care.”

The award means Hanson, who has worked in public education for 39 years, will travel to Washington, D.C., with English teacher Colleen Carlson to accept the prize. Hanson, who once taught American history, has never been to the nation’s capital, she said.

Vashon was one of seven schools nominated last spring for the 2008 award by the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which pores over test score results and other information to determine what schools might be able to achieve the status. OSPI staff look at the school’s results on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) in reading, writing and math as well as whether they meet additional criteria established by the law, said Lisa Ireland, a research/data analyst in OSPI’s student information department.

“The number we find qualified is quite small,” Ireland said. “They have to be doing some great things to meet the requirements.”

Administrators at each school nominated then has to decide if they want to take on the lengthy application process — in Vashon’s case, nearly 30 pages of essays about the school, its academics and its climate as well as demographic and other statistical data, Hanson said.

All seven of the nominated schools sought the prize, Ireland said, with only four achieving it in Washington. The other schools are Chelan High School, Pullman High School and Northport Schools, a tiny district near the Canadian border.

Other high schools in Washington that have received blue ribbon awards include Mercer Island, Inglemoor in Kenmore, Newport in Bellevue and South Whidbey in Langley. Several middle and elementary schools have also been recognized.

Nancy Kappelman, a parent with a keen interest in academic achievement, said she was pleased to hear about Vashon’s accomplishment.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I think we have a tremendous high school.”

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