In a visit to Bladensburg Elementary School today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised Prince George’s County for its commitment to improving school performance.

“What they’ve done here in Prince George’s County has been great example of the type of applicants we’d like to see more of,” said Duncan in a call with reporters after the event. “You had a visionary plan, a real commitment to driving student achievement and you had a real buy-in at every level.”

The event was held to promote the $437 million national Teacher Incentive Fund program. Duncan praised the county and Bladensburg ES in particular. He said despite numerous challenges, the school is still providing an excellent education for students.

“A school like this, frankly, could provide many legitimate excuses as to why students can’t learn — population is way too diverse, too many students living below the poverty line and you sometimes hear folks tell you what students that come from different backgrounds can’t do,” Duncan said. “Here, there’s just an absolute, rock-solid, fundamental commitment that every single child can be successful and the progress that’s been made at this school is extraordinary.”

In order to achieve that progress, the school had to first address the areas in which it was falling short. Rhonda Pitts, the school’s principal, said that the school had to look at its overall plan and do a better job of preparing a structure for its students. “Planning is just not planning a lesson,” Pitts said. It’s making sure you’re meeting every student’s needs in groups and individually and really delving into the content and making sure they understand it. When you question kids, the questions should be at a higher thinking level and not just at the knowledge. So where taking time creating questions before we implement that lesson.”

Bladensburg ES is one of the Prince George’s schools involved with Financial Incentive Rewards for Supervisors and Teachers (FIRST), which is a five-year program that began in 2007. The voluntary $17 million program rewards teachers and administrators for helping students meet achievement standards while undergoing rigorous evaluation. Nineteen other schools are enrolled in the program.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO