Jefferson Magnet School earns high national honor for narrowing achievement gap

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announces the National Blue Ribbon Program awards on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announces the National Blue Ribbon Program awards on Tuesday.

NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk elementary school has received national recognition for closing the achievement gap.

Jefferson Science Magnet School is one of 48 schools that were chosen across 47 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Department of Defense Schools in Germany and Japan by the National Blue Ribbon Schools as exemplary gap closing schools.

“We’re really excited over here. It’s a great honor,” Principal John Reynolds said. 

Jefferson is the only school in Connecticut to receive the gap-closing honor. Of the 48 schools recognized for closing the achievement gap, 36 were elementary schools.

There were 337 total schools chosen for Blue Ribbon honors by the panel, including 241 elementary schools. The majority of recognitions were given for high-performing schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the awards live via the Department of Education’s USTREAM channel at 1:30 p.m. and was viewed by recognized principals, teachers, and students assembled across the country, a DoE press release states. The schools chosen for recognition ceremony will be honored Nov. 10-11 in Washington, D.C.

“An important part of the U.S. Department of Education, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes outstanding public and non-public schools,” the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program website states. “In identifying several hundred outstanding schools annually, the program celebrates some of the most skilled and effective educators in the country.  The Award is both a high aspiration and a potent resource of practitioner knowledge.”

The awards have been bestowed for 32 years on some 7,000 American schools, the website states. “National Blue Ribbon Schools represent the full diversity of American schools: public schools including charter schools, magnet/choice schools, Title I schools, and non-public schools including parochial and independent schools. They are urban, suburban, and rural, large and small, traditional and innovative, and serve students of every social, economic, and ethnic background,” it says.

The website lists Jefferson’s demographics as

  • Black/African American: 16 percent
  • White/Caucasian: 14 percent
  • Hispanic: 55 percent
  • Asian: 12 percent
  • English Language Learners: 29 percent
  • Economically disadvantaged: 68 percent

Reynolds attributed the recognition to “The hard work of all the people who work here every day. We just have a fantastically dedicated staff, and really that includes not only our teachers but our assistant principal from last year, Kathy Gallagher, as well as all of our non-certified staff who just work tirelessly with our children.”

Gallagher retired last summer.

“Exemplary High Performing” schools have their state’s highest high school graduation rates and the highest achieving students (the top 15 percent) in English and mathematics, measured by state assessments, the website states. “Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing” schools have made the greatest advances (top 15 percent) in closing subgroup achievement gaps in English and mathematics over the past five years, measured by state assessments.

“The Award’s effect on schools and communities is powerful,” the federal website states. “As one principal recalled, ‘The National Blue Ribbon begins a process you cannot stop.’

“Many National Blue Ribbon Schools find they attract new business partners, financial assistance and volunteers,” the website continues. “If school choice is an option, numbers of student applications soar. Less quantifiably, the Award inspires students: ‘You have pride, knowing your school worked so hard to reach that goal,’ one student noted. The Award re-energizes staff and parents. Teachers describe a renewed commitment to exchanging new ideas with one another. Student pride and staff confidence grow.”

“I think it opens up the opportunity for others to kind of look at our practices here that have been successful over a long time, working with all students,” Reynolds said. “I think we’ll be recognized, that we’re doing some good work and I also think that for our staff it’s very validating and it really invigorates everybody when you receive something that says that the work you are doing is recognized at such a prestigious level as a federal blue ribbon.”


13 responses to “Jefferson Magnet School earns high national honor for narrowing achievement gap”

  1. Great job by John Reynolds and the staff at Jefferson! This is the kind of progress we want to spread through the entire Norwalk school system.

  2. Anne Sullivan

    Well done!

  3. Kathleen Montgomery

    Huge accomplishment! Congrats to all!

  4. Oldtimer

    Congratulations to all the teachers and staff, and the students, at Jefferson. Good job, well done.

  5. LWitherspoon

    Let’s see if Jefferson Magnet’s national recognition is mentioned at the next “Ferguson in Connecticut” rally.

  6. Lifelong Teacher

    Amen, LWitherspoon! Like I posted in that thread this weekend, this doesn’t make good press for them. Jefferson’s minority students have made tremendous gains over the last five years. Those outsiders, and Chiquita, should all stay home.

    Some really good work is being done right here in Norwalk. Kudos to the Jefferson teachers and staff.

  7. Concerned

    What wonderful news for students, families and staff at Jefferson. Just goes to show what can happen when EVERYBODY works together. Hope the ‘formula’ for Jefferson’s success will be passed on to other Norwalk schools. However, I’m sure a dedicated staff that ALWAYS goes the extra ‘distance’, engaged parents who support teachers and school administrators, and hard-working kids are all part of the ‘secret sauce.” KUDOS TO THE ENTIRE JEFFERSON COMMUNITY, I’m really impressed.

  8. C.G.

    Congratulations Lifelong!

  9. MarjorieM

    Great news, Jefferson staff! Congratulations! Those who posted about the Ferguson rally here, shame on you. This post is about a success story.

  10. MarjorieM

    P.S. I think a picture of the Jefferson School staff would have been more appropriate for this article. Positive reinforcement for the staff goes a long way!

  11. Lifelong Teacher

    MarjorieM, it just goes to show, once again, that those people don’t know Norwalk. And they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    I know firsthand that Jefferson has high expectations for EVERY child, with no excuses.

  12. Jeff

    Congrats! This is a major victory and staff and teachers deserve a round of applause. With the large number of first generation immigrants and ENL (English as a non language)households in Norwalk, closing the achievement gap is no small feat. Ratings systems are not unfortunately handicapped and don’t take into account the challenges schools face when getting students up to speed from non English speaking households – great job!

  13. LWitherspoon

    Sorry Marjorie, but it’s entirely appropriate to mention “Ferguson in CT” here. “Ferguson in CT” claims that the Norwalk schools are not serving minorities well. If that’s true, how is it that Jefferson Magnet received a national award for success in closing the achievement gap? Is the award bogus?
    Congratulations to the staff of Jefferson Magnet and of course to the BoE for creating conditions in which Jefferson Magnet could succeed.

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