KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
Greenport Elementary School was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education last Thursday. It’s one of 19 schools statewide and one of two on Long Island to be honored by the national program that recognizes high-achieving schools and most improved student performance.
“We are on cloud nine,” Superintendent Michael Comanda said last week. He credited former superintendent Charles Kozora with bringing in the Reading First program in 2004 and former elementary school principal Paul Read for carrying the torch forward with the program.
Student performance in math also improved, Mr. Comanda said. Overall, students in grades three, four, five and six showed a 20- to 25-point improvement in test scores from 2006 to 2009, he said.
In 2006, 74 percent of Greenport’s sixth-graders scored at proficient or advanced levels in English language arts and math tests. In 2009, 98 percent of the school’s sixth-graders achieved those levels, he said. He added that 100 percent of the school’s disadvantaged students scored at proficient or advanced levels.
“It’s about believing in the kids,” Mr. Comanda said. “It’s expecting them to do well and expecting teachers to do well.”
Dr. Kozora, who retired as superintendent in August 2009, wrote the grant application with cooperation from then-elementary school principal Barbara Claps, reading specialist Joan Olszewski and special education director Thomas Rabbitt. A $1.1 million Reading First grant, part of the No Child Left Behind federal program, was awarded in February 2004. It provided money for materials and staffing.
“I told the faculty at the time that this would have the greatest impact of anything we have ever done,” Dr. Kozora said about the implementation of the Reading First program. It relies on the latest research to ensure that every child benefits from individual coaching to master reading skills by third grade.
Blue Ribbon recognition reflects an awareness among state and federal education officials that a poor district like Greenport can’t compete with a wealthy district like Cold Spring Harbor, Dr. Kozora said. But access to tools like the Reading First program enabled Greenport to show marked improvement in a few short years, he said, despite its limited resources.
“It’s very rewarding to have that happen,” he said.
During a ceremony at the school on Wednesday to celebrate the award, Dr. Kozora said, “I am proud of what this award means to our school” adding that “the award really belonged to the students, the staff and the parents of the district.”
Mayor David Nyce was among those at the ceremony. “I want to express to you,” he said, “how undyingly proud the village is of this school. This is the age when you learn how to learn.”
Mr. Read, who retired in January for health reasons, is now running a fee-based early-morning day care program for elementary school children and will go to Washington, D.C., in November to receive the Blue Ribbon Award from President Barack Obama. He is likely to be accompanied by one of the elementary school teachers, Mr. Comanda said, noting that only two people from each Blue Ribbon School may attend the White House ceremony.
“We’re going to see what doors this opens,” Mr. Comanda added. Even though the award doesn’t carry any financial prize, he said, it’s a spur to students and staff members to continue to strive for success.