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Maryville school gets national recognition for academic performance

Sam Houston Elementary School earned the highest national recognition given to schools for academic performance — the National Blue Ribbon.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Board of Education reported only 29% of students in the state are on grade level in English language arts, and only 25% are on grade level in math. Officials said the fall in those rates was mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those numbers may look grim, but a school in East Tennessee is making strides. Sam Houston Elementary School in Maryville earned the highest national recognition given to schools for academic performance.  

It's one of just six Tennessee schools recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a 2021 National Blue Ribbon School. These schools are recognized for their overall academic performance and the progress they make in closing achievement gaps

The other schools given the ribbon are listed below:

  • Clovercroft Elementary School, Williamson County Schools
  • Liberty Elementary School, Franklin Special School District
  • Towne Acres Elementary School, Johnson City Schools
  • Sam Houston Elementary School, Maryville City Schools
  • Meigs Middle Magnet School, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
  • Thrasher Elementary School, Hamilton County Schools

"We're just so proud of everybody. I mean this is years and years of hard work," Principal Dr. Casey Cutter said.

Only 325 schools across the U.S. were selected for the National Blue Ribbon honor this year. Dr. Cutter attributes the school's success to three factors. The first reason the school achieved so much is due to support from the students and staff in its community, he said.

"There's just an incredible support system," he said. "This is the pride of the community. Maryville is known for great football and great schools. and you talk to anybody, we get people who are moving here from all over the U.S. just for the schools."

He said the second the school was able to perform so well is because of its technology. A few years ago, the city adopted one-to-one technology policies, giving each student an iPad to help with their learning. They use iPads during each instructional day.

Because of the policies, the school was also able to easily shift to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring they didn't miss many days.

"It's not the focus of what we do but it is another tool to what we do and so when we shifted to digital learning the amazing thing with this district is because we had years and years of experience with that we only missed a couple of instructional days," Cutter said.

What really sets the school apart though, Cutter said, are the teachers and staff.

"They refuse to let anybody fall through the cracks,” he said. “We have the best staff around. Maryville's all about hiring the best and then giving them the autonomy, they need to run with it and be professionals.”

Ashley Hammonds has been teaching at the school for 16 years. She said it feels good to see their hard work pay off and to see the school get national recognition.

"I don't know if it's the secret ingredient but there's a lot of passion here," she said.

The school is celebrating the high achievement on Friday with a Blue-Ribbon Bash. School leaders said everyone will wear blue, the halls will be decked out in blue and there may also be blue snow cones involved too.

To learn more about the National Blue Ribbon, click here.

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