Washington, D.C. – US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Congressman Ron Dellums spent Friday morning at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC. The visit served two purposes: to recognize the school for its recent Blue Ribbon Award recognition and to join The History Makers organization for their third annual Back to School with The HistoryMakers event. McKinley Technology is the only Washington, DC public school to be recognized by the US Department of Education with the National Blue Ribbon Award.
The National Blue Ribbon Award recognizes the country’s highest performing elementary, middle and high schools as well as schools where dramatic gains are being made in student achievement. Less than one percent of schools in the United States receive the award each year.
David Pinder, a member of Cohort 6 of New Leaders’ Aspiring Principals program, took over as Principal at McKinley in 2007. Secretary Duncan presented a certificate to Principal Pinder and the entire McKinley community during the History Makers event in recognition of their Blue Ribbon status.
McKinley Technology is one of five specialized secondary schools in the district and is located in Ward 5. The high school has seen tremendous results over the last seven years, moving from only 38% of students scoring proficient or advanced on the city’s standardized assessment in 2005 to now having more than 90% of students score at that level.
When asked about the Blue Ribbon distinction in an e-mail interview, Principal Pinder reflected back on the last five years: “In 2007, we were not a full Title 1 school and just over half of our students were proficient in math and reading. Since then we have actually increased the percentage of students on ‘free and reduced lunch’ and are now a full Title 1 school. Many would suggest that this increase in the number of students at the poverty level would also result in a decrease in achievement. However, when a school creates a safe place for learning, a culture of high expectations, incredible teachers in the classroom and decisions guided by data the results overwhelmingly demonstrate that we can accelerate achievement.”
The HistoryMakers organization has been working since 1999 to record and preserve the oral history of thousands of African Americans. In 2011, the second annual Back to School program brought 458 HistoryMakers into 286 schools in 112 cities in 35 states, more than double the participation from 2010.
Photos available at the US Department of Education Flickr website
INTERVIEW WITH NEW LEADER DAVID PINDER, PRINCPAL OF MCKINLEY TECH
1. What does it mean to you and your school to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon Award winner?
For the last 5 years we have worked to rewrite and implement a vision and mission that focuses on developing a school of master teachers, dedicated to the variables we control in order to accelerate achievement and close the achievement gap. The National Blue Ribbon award represents the culmination of this hard work by our students, staff, teachers, parents and school leaders.
We’ve made incredibly hard decisions to arrive at this milestone around personnel, curricula, instruction and professional development; we’ve never wavered in our resolve that education is the great equalizer for all children. In 2007, we were not a full Title 1 school and just over half of our students were proficient in math and reading. Since then we have actually increased the percentage of students on “free and reduced” lunch and are now a full Title 1 school. Many would suggest that this increase in the number of students at the poverty level would also result in a decrease in achievement. However, when a school creates a safe place for learning, a culture of high expectations, incredible teachers in the classroom, and decisions guided by data the results overwhelmingly demonstrate that we can accelerate achievement. In 2012, McKinley reached 92% proficiency in math and 91% proficiency in reading, proving that one’s economic condition does not dictate one’s educational outcomes.
2. How meaningful was it for Secretary Duncan to personally visit McKinley today and to recognize all you’ve accomplished?
Secretary Duncan is by far the most innovative education secretary since the inception of the Department of Education. Though the federal government provides only about 10% of total spending on education nationwide, Secretary Duncan’s Race to the Top initiative to require school districts and states to compete for federal funding around reforming best practices and improving teacher training has shifted the directions of nearly 90% of states in the country. This is an incredible accomplishment as the Secretary understands that we must take drastic measures to reverse our country’s sliding academic achievement compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Combined with his commitment to common core and setting high standards for educational outcomes Secretary Duncan’s recognition of McKinley’s success is even more rewarding!
3. What did it mean to you to host Back to School with The HistoryMakers? Did receiving recognition for the Blue Ribbon mean more given it happened during such an important event?
The achievement gap is incredibly concerning across the United States and especially in urban school districts. It is critical that leaders in the African American community continue to inspire students to raise their own expectations for success. HistoryMakers is working hard to do just that by providing students across the country the opportunity to learn from successful African American leaders who’ve overcome indifference, poverty and racism to achieve at high levels of success. We were honored to host this team of leaders at McKinley and humbled by the incredible story of Congressman Ron Dellums, whose 35 years as a Congressman and Mayor represent what can be accomplished when students utilize education as the tool for change in their lives.
Receiving the blue ribbon recognition during the HistoryMakers event was especially rewarding. McKinley is 94% African American. Our students have proven that a quality education is their route to a successful life and they have closed the gap in the district with their white and Asian counterparts. They too are HistoryMakers and what better venue than McKinley to celebrate it!
4. Now that you’ve achieved a National Blue Ribbon Award, what’s next for McKinley Technology High School?
McKinley is now a 90/90 proficient school. We have closed the achievement gap in our district but not yet with our international counterparts in Brazil, China and India. Our goal over the next 5 years is to move to 90/90 advanced! This year we tested 24% advanced in math and 20% advanced in reading; a significant increase from last year but not where we need to be to compete internationally. With increased rigor in our coursework and curricula, implementation of the common core and a commitment to redesigning the instructional setting to make it more focused on critical thinking through literacy we intend to close the international gap as well! Stay tuned!