More than 200 fifth-graders at Davis Drive Elementary screamed, clapped, cheered and started dabbing – a dance craze popularized by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton – when they found out their school had been named one of the best in the country Wednesday.
The school is one of eight North Carolina schools to be named a 2016 National Blue Ribbon School. Morrisville Elementary, also in Wake County, is the only other Triangle school to receive the prestigious recognition from the U.S. Department of Education this year. The other six schools are scattered throughout the state.
“I think it’s because we’re a strong school community,” said James “Chip” Mack, principal at Davis Drive Elementary. “We support education, and we are always looking for ways to encourage growth within our school. We think every child can grow, and we put a lot of effort into making sure that our students are continuously growing.”
The Wake County schools are among 279 public and 50 private schools nationally that are being honored for achieving very high learning standards or making notable improvements in closing the academic achievement gap. Fewer than 8,500 schools have received the Blue Ribbon Award since 1982.
Davis Drive Elementary, a school of nearly 1,000 students in Cary, also received the award in 2001 and 2006.
Morrisville Elementary earned the distinction in 2005.
“We want to prepare our kids to be effective in middle school, high school and be productive and successful in society,” said Michael Matthews, principal at Morrisville Elementary School. “We want them to be effective critical thinkers.”
Wednesday, students at Davis Drive Elementary anxiously awaited the announcement, hoping that their school would be chosen for the distinction a third time.
Just before school was dismissed, the fifth-graders were invited into the gym to celebrate the moment – which they did with plastic hand clappers and high-pitched shrieks like only 10- to 11-year-olds can muster.
“You guys have been here since kindergarten,” Mack said to the children. “A lot of you have been. Some of you have moved in since that time, but you guys have worked hard and I wanted you to be a part of the announcement and a part of the recognition.”
Low teacher turnover rates contribute to the school’s success, Mack said, because it allows for experienced staff that can better get to know parents and students.
“We’ve got rich diversity at our school,” he said. “I think we learn from one another culturally. I think our students get along in positive ways. I think we work to understand our students.”
Mack and teachers said the accolade ultimately is a result of a culmination of hard work and support by students, parents, teachers, staff and the community.
“It’s a group effort,” said Leann Hamstra, a fifth-grade teacher who has worked at Davis Drive for nearly 12 years. “I think everybody views (Davis Drive Elementary) as a family, and everybody is willing to step in and go the extra mile.”
Staff writer Henry Gargan contributed.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon