CHESHIRE — Norton Elementary School was named a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday, one of just four schools in the state to receive the honor this year.
The national award is given to schools that excel in “overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups,” according to a DOE announcement Thursday afternoon.
“We are so proud of Norton’s faculty and staff for getting this great honor,” said School Superintendent Jeff Solan. “People who are not in the academic world don’t realize what an honor this truly is.”
There was a short presentation at Norton on Thursday afternoon to announce the award, which included a short video from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“Congratulations to this year’s National Blue Ribbon School awardees,” said DeVos. “It’s a privilege to recognize the extraordinary work you do to meet students’ needs and prepare them for successful careers and meaningful lives.”
According to the DOE, Norton received the Blue Ribbon “high performing school” designation, which is determined each year by measuring student results based on the state assessments or national tests.
Norton, according to the DOE, “exceeded its school performance index targets for all students in English Language Arts and mathematics consistently for the last three administrations of Smarter Balanced. Simultaneously, academic growth measures in both subjects have improved every year.”
Norton Principal Kelly Grillo held back tears as she addressed her faculty and staff during Thursday’s ceremony.
“I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish. Thank you all for your passion and commitment to being great teachers to our students,” she said. “We deserve this.”
The ceremony, which was held for the teachers and staff at Norton, wasn’t complete without cake and a toast, using sparkling water, to congratulate them for their hard work.
“Connecticut’s public school teachers are the best in the United States, and the tools they are providing our youngest residents are enabling them to achieve success throughout their careers,” said Gov. Ned Lamont, in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Every child — no matter their family’s income or the neighborhood where they live — deserves access to a quality education that prepares them for achievement. We no doubt continue to have work to do to close persistent achievement gaps that have lingered far too long, but I firmly believe that the strong work of so many of our educators is having an impact. I congratulate these schools on earning this national distinction and wish them continued success.”
Norton teachers were hailed for their use of what is described as the “gradual release of responsibility” approach designed to encourage more complex learning. The three steps utilized in the method are phased in over time, first with the introduction of materials through modeling, then moving on to cooperative learning where students study together, and finally transitioning into the students working individually.
“This approach requires students to be active participants in the learning process and moves them toward increasingly greater levels of independence. The approach works well in all subject areas and is balanced in mathematics courses with opportunities for students to engage in productive struggle,” according to the state Department of Education.
Norton joins George Hersey Robertson in Coventry, South Street School in Danbury, and Northeast School in Vernon as the only four schools in Connecticut to be recognized this year. A total of 317 public schools and 50 non-public schools from across the country have been named Blue Ribbon honorees this year. The 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony will be held virtually on Nov. 12 and 13.
“Never doubt the difference you guys make in the lives of our kids,” Grillo added. “You are all blue ribbon teachers.”