Officials with the Mount Airy Schools system say that having Mount Airy High School named a national Blue Ribbon School can be a boon for the economic welfare of the region.
“This award really shines the national spotlight on Mount Airy,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Little. “When we sit back and think about this award it’s almost so prestigious that people may not understand what it means. We’re proud of our athletic teams, but every year one team from somewhere is going to win the state championship. But there are so few high schools in the nation that are named Blue Ribbon Schools that having received this award raises the bar another level.”
Economic development professionals agreed.
“In economic development we talk about the quality of education a lot,” said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership. “One of the major components of economic development is education and having an educated workforce. Letting companies know that we have a recognized, award-winning school system is just gravy.
“It reaffirms the things we tell them about the quality of education in Mount Airy and the region. When other organizations recognize the quality of schools we have here it just lends credibility to what we’ve been telling them all along.”
Tucker said having such high quality schools makes marketing the area to prospective businesses much easier.
“As soon as we heard about it we put it on all our websites and sent a notice of the award to business organizations to let them know about it.
“This is really good news for us and is a really big deal,” Tucker said. “It speaks volumes about Mount Airy and the community as a whole.”
In order to be named a Blue Ribbon School it must be nominated based on student performance on state academic tests by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Those nominations are then sent by the State Superintendent of Education to the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program for selection.
The award was based on data collected from the 2009-2010 school year, Little said.
That year, students at the high school eclipsed the performance of their peers in the state in every tested subject.
In English I, 92.7 percent of MAHS students scored at or above grade level compared to 82.4 percent in the rest of the state. In both Algebra I and Algebra II, over 92 percent of students scored at of above grade level compared to their North Carolina peers, who scored 77.8 percent on Algebra I and 84.9 in Algebra II.
The Mount Airy students also outscored their state peers in every other subject on the test, according to the Department of Public Instruction’s student performance website.
Once nominated, the process of sending in data for scrutiny by the award committee began.
“This was a very long and lengthy process that entailed a lot of different information,” Little said. Only one school in North Carolina was named a Blue Ribbon School last year, and only 43 schools across the country received the designation.
Principal Sandy George said receiving the honor was surprising, to say the least.
“When I received the email notifying me that we’d been nominated I called the superintendent and told him that I didn’t believe it,” she said. “Just to be nominated is a great honor.”
Both George and Little say that the recognition can help improve the region’s tax base and economy.
“I think this award really validates what we do on a daily basis in educating our students,” Little said. “We’re in the business of trying to bring businesses to the area and now Mount Airy High School can stand there as a beacon and say that if you’re looking for a place with a good educational system,this is a place to come. For our community, this is a draw.”
George agreed, adding that garnering the award speaks to the fact that quality education doesn’t have to take place in an urban environment.
“It sends a message out there that living in a rural community doesn’t necessarily have to affect the quality of education,” she said. “Here we are in Mount Airy and we’re competing on a national level.”
Little said that while the high school was named the winner of the award, the credit should go to every student and educator in the region.
“This really is the result of the collective effort of all of our staff,” he said.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.