METUCHEN – Edgar Middle School is the first public school in Metuchen to earn the distinction of being a National Blue Ribbon School.
And school officials can’t wait to celebrate.
“The National Blue Ribbon Award has never before been awarded to Edgar Middle School (EMS) or any other Metuchen school,” Edgar Principal Suzy Azevedo said. “For EMS, this is incredibly thrilling as this marks significant growth over the past 10 years.
“In 2012, EMS was designated a focus school by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) due to the achievement gap between two of our subgroups.
“Under the leadership of Ms. Kathy Glutz, EMS met the student growth targets set by the state. Then Mr. Kevin McPeek (former principal) continued to collaborate with our teachers in order to fulfill the needs of our kids with assistance from Superintendent Dr. Vincent Caputo, Assistant Superintendent Richard Cohen, Assistant Principal Brian Stike and district supervisors,” Azevedo said.
In February, Azevedo was contacted by the U.S. DOE with an invitation to apply as a result of being nominated by the NJDOE.
Due to the extensive application, Azevedo assembled a committee of staff members including Assistant Principal Neyda Evans. The teachers on the committee included Michael Butler, Linda Donohue, and Karen Logan. The school’s math coach Sandy Vorensky and School Counselor Lisa Chango were also part of the committee along with Paraprofessional Mary Jo Paulmenn.
“We met a couple of times to brainstorm and write the application together. The application was due in April. The last step in receiving the award was for New Jersey to certify that Edgar Middle School met the state’s performance targets on the 2021-22 school year state assessments,” Azevedo said.
EMS was one of 297 schools nationwide selected by the U.S. DOE. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced program recipients in September.
“I applaud all the honorees for the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award for creating vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school communities where students can learn, grow, reach their potential, and achieve their dreams,” Cardona said.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools program has been recognizing public and private schools nationwide since 1982.
Whether they are public or private high school, middle schools or elementary schools, those recognized have displayed overall academic achievement or progress in closing educational achievement gaps between various student groups.
“As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will only be as strong as the education we provide to all of our children,” Cardona said. “Blue Ribbon Schools have gone above and beyond to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs.”
EMS was one of nine New Jersey schools selected to be 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools. Others in the state included Frank Defino Central Elementary School in the Marlboro Township Public School District and Stony Brook Elementary School in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District.
“We are all so proud of this honor. Only 297 schools in the country earned National Blue Ribbon status this year,” Caputo said.
“It’s a credit to Mrs. Azevedo and Mrs. Evans, to the staff, to the students, and to the parents. We are also grateful to the prior administrators including Kathy Glutz, Mike Knoth, Kevin McPeek, and Brian Stike (who is now an assistant principal at Metuchen High School). Along with former staff and former Edgar students, they helped create the conditions for this honor.
“Our board’s focus on SEL (social emotional learning) and the whole child plus our strong academic achievement and growth is why we earned this. About 9,000 schools in 40 years have earned this distinction. This is the first time in my 33 years in education that I’ve been part of a school district that has earned a National Blue Ribbon. I can’t wait to celebrate with all our stakeholders at several events throughout the year.”
Azevedo said she and Evans are committed to continuing to lead the school in focusing on the whole child.
“We do not only focus on academic, but also on the mental, social and emotional aspects of all our students,” she said. “Our students learn the Metuchen Problem Solving Process and are able to apply it in all aspects of their lives. At EMS, cultivating relationships with people is a top priority.
“One way we help students make connections with other students and adults is through our Advisory Program. Students meet in groups created based on common interests between staff and students. In these groups students and staff create bonds through sports, strategy games, mindfulness, art and other activities. Through these unique programs we encourage students to self-advocate, as well as challenge themselves to meet goals. We aim to support our students through the middle grades, not just academically, but with the social and emotional skills to connect with diverse groups and understand others’ perspectives,” Azevedo said.
The other 258 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools spanned across the country featuring 31 Blue Ribbon schools in Texas, 29 Blue Ribbon Schools in California, and 20 Blue Ribbon Schools in New York.
“These schools show what is possible to make an enduring, positive difference in students’ lives,” Cardona said.
Each year, the U.S. DOE accepts a maximum of 420 nominations to National Blue Ribbon Schools.
The department selects the schools through two performance categories: exemplary high-performing schools and exemplary achievement gap-closing schools.
The federal agency examines school graduation rates, student scores and subgroup student scores as part of the selection process.