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Murray Journal

McMillan Elementary honored by U.S. Secretary of Education

Dec 10, 2019 01:27PM ● By Julie Slama

McMillan Elementary student leaders know they’re at a No. 1 rated school with their Blue Ribbon School announcement. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

On Nov. 18, when students and faculty returned to McMillan Elementary after the weekend, there was something expected and new at the school — the National Blue Ribbon School Award.

On behalf of the McMillan community, school principal Joy Sanford, school instructional coach Cynthia Richards and Murray School District Superintendent Jennifer Covington were to accept the award from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the ceremony Nov. 14-15 in National Harbor, Maryland.

Students were made aware of their success late September at a school-wide assembly where they were congratulated by Covington and celebrated with confetti released by Murray Board of Education members. 

“This is their award,” Sanford said. “These amazing kids showed what they learned from our dedicated teachers. We’re the first school in Murray School District to receive the award and it’s a pretty big honor. Education is hard work so it’s rewarding for our students and teachers to be recognized.”

McMillan, which displays the award banner outside its school, is one of 362 schools in 46 states to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2019, and one of only four in Utah. The other state winners are Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, North Rich Elementary in Laketown and Crimson View Elementary in St. George.

The award is based on a school’s overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. National Blue Ribbon Schools demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels, DeVos said.

In her video message, Secretary DeVos applauded the 2019 schools: “We recognize and honor your important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives. As a National Blue Ribbon School, your school demonstrates what is possible when committed educators hold all students and staff to high standards and create vibrant, innovative cultures of teaching and learning.”

McMillan, which serves neighborhood students from kindergarten through sixth grade, was nominated for the award last winter by the Utah State Board of Education as an exemplary high-performing school, Sanford said.

Upon receiving the nomination, Sanford filled out an application by late spring, with support of Covington and Murray Board of Education President Kami Anderson. 

“It wanted our academic indicators in reading, math, science; our demographic data; our mobility rate; the number of free and reduced lunch students; the numbers of English language learners, special ed and disability students; our student to staff ratio, our past five years of attendance rate; a summary about our school and involvement of our community; our curriculum instruction; how we incorporate technology and so many things,” said the principal in her seventh year at the school. “It was like breaking down what we do each day and understanding the processes of what makes our school, how important it is what we’re doing and how what we’re doing helps each child grow and progress.”

The application also asked for end-of-the-year standardized test scores. While McMillan is the district’s magnet gifted and talented program, Sanford said that this population is just 16% of the 530 students.

“We share this credit with all of our students and teachers. It is because of each student’s and teacher’s perseverance and hard work we have been able to reach high proficiency and growth levels,” she said. “Our population of students and families vary from some of the more affluent families in Murray to approximately 30% who are economically disadvantaged. Given this contrast, we come together united in purpose and expectations, celebrating individual strengths and progress of every child. We believe in educating the whole child, their character, their social-emotional piece, letting our students know they are cared for, as well as their academic success. Building those relationships is key here at McMillan.”

At the ceremony, 312 public and 50 private schools were to be recognized. In its 37-year history, the National Blue Ribbon Schools program has bestowed this coveted award on more than 9,000 schools.

Sanford had hopes to exchange ideas and network with other school winners.

“I want to talk to others and learn what’s working and find common ways of success amongst the schools being honored,” she said. “We need to keep moving. We’ve seen the growth over the past five years; now we need to keep it up to continue to have a high level of growing.”