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Blue ribbons go to three WNY schools Federal designation cites performance in academics in Hamburg, Corfu, Sherman

Three Western New York schools won designation as federal "Blue Ribbon Schools" on Tuesday in recognition of their excellent academic performance.

Big Tree Elementary School in the Frontier School District, Town of Hamburg, Pembroke Intermediate School in Corfu and Sherman Elementary School in Chautauqua County were among 413 schools designated nationwide.

"These Blue Ribbon Schools have shown that all children can learn with appropriate supports," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the awards.

"They are producing outstanding results for their students," Duncan added. "Some have shown dramatic improvements in places where students are overcoming the challenges of poverty, and others serve as examples of consistent excellence that can be a resource for other schools."

The awards honor public and private elementary, middle and high schools that are either academically superior or have made dramatic gains in student achievement and helped close gaps in achievement among minority and disadvantaged students.

"They are places where improved teaching and learning benefits every student, and where students are challenged to meet high expectations with the active support of teachers, parents and the community," Duncan said.

That's exactly what happens at Big Tree, said Joanne C. Saniewski, the school's principal. The school emphasizes a "Parents as Reading Partners" program that gets parents to commit to reading with their children.

"We believe that home plus school equals excellence," said Saniewski, whose school won its Blue Ribbon for ranking as one of the state's top-performing schools.

Pembroke Intermediate School won its Blue Ribbon for the same reason. Matthew Calderon, the school's principal, attributed its success to "research-based instruction strategies," which evaluate how well students are learning.

"We don't just teach," he said. "It's about the learning. We're constantely reviewing and analyzing our results."

Meanwhile, Sherman Elementary won its designation for showing a dramatic improvement in student performance in a school with a large concentration of disadvantaged students.

Principal Thomas Schmidt attributed the school's success to a dedicated staff, hardworking students and supportive families. "It's a small school doing great things," he said.

The Department of Education presents the awards annually. In 2008, Charlotte Avenue Elementary School in Hamburg and Ledgeview Elementary School in Clarence won the designation.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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