Cary News

Briarcliff Elementary celebrates Blue Ribbon award

Stephanie Raiford, principal of Briarcliff Elementary
Stephanie Raiford, principal of Briarcliff Elementary

Teachers and students at Briarcliff Elementary School danced and cheered when they found out the school had been named one of the best in the country, Principal Stephanie Raiford said.

The school is one of five North Carolina schools to be named a 2014 National Blue Ribbon School. Raleigh Charter School also received the award last week.

“I have a dedicated group of teachers,” Briarcliff Principal Stephanie Raiford said. “Everything boils down to having good teachers in your building, who will work hard.”

The teachers at Briarcliff, located off Southeast Maynard Road, also like having fun. One teacher even made Raiford a crown, complete with the Blue Ribbon School logo, encouraging her to wear it while taking photos with staff members.

More than 300 schools of all levels around the country won Blue Ribbon awards. Of those, 48 – including Briarcliff – were recognized for achievement in closing achievement gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines.

The school’s enrollment is more than 25 percent Hispanic and less than 50 percent white. Forty-three percent of the students are classified as economically disadvantaged.

The school was nominated for the award by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, and both DPI and the Blue Ribbon selection committee used a number of test scores and statistical measures to identify the best of the best.

In the 2013-14 school year, the school met its growth expectations, with 75 percent of students testing at grade level.

The year before, under more stringent state standards, 52 percent of students tested at grade level for reading and math – exceeding district and state averages by double digits.

The five-year trend at Briarcliff shows marked improvement, Raiford said.

“With all our groups of kids, we’re doing a good job helping them grow,” said Raiford, who has led the school for three years.

Next month, she will travel to Washington, D.C., with teacher Robin Lane to accept the school’s award.

Lane has spent her entire 31-year teaching career at Briarcliff and said the award should inspire educators to set even higher standards for themselves and their students.

“I just think that our teachers are dedicated and intent on making sure every child reaches their potential,” Lane said. “They pour their heart and soul into everything.”

Raiford said the award already has boosted morale. Even students are more enthusiastic about school, she said, even though they don’t understand the magnitude of the award.

“They ask me what it means, and I say, ‘It means you’re doing a really good job, so keep it up,’ ” Raiford said.

Test results for the 2013-14 school year show some groups significantly outperform others.

Nearly 76 percent of white students tested at grade level in reading, compared with 45.7 percent of black students and 28.8 percent of Hispanic students.

“We know we still have a long way to get students where we want them,” Raiford said.

“But this shows what can happen when you have a true community working together,” she added, noting the school’s partnerships with the Cary Rotary Club, the local YMCA and Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church, as well as heavy parent involvement.

In 2013-14, white and black students outperformed the district and state averages, while Hispanic students lagged slightly behind the averages in reading.

Economically disadvantaged students also outperformed their peers across the state and in Wake County.