Snare drums rolled and bass drums boomed from the front of the Gertrude Bish Auditorium as Dr. Joan Benz, principal of Winston Churchill High School led a procession of dignitaries through the darkened auditorium to a seat in front of the stage.
It was a scene of much pomp and circumstance as the school was officially presented with the Blue Ribbon Award from the Maryland State Department of Education. The announcement was made in December 2006, but the presentation ceremony on Monday, April 30 made it official.
“This is all about you, Churchill, you are the best” said Benz to the assembled crowd of mostly Churchill seniors. The event was simulcast to homerooms throughout the school for all students to see. “We didn’t apply for this, we were selected,” Benz said of the selection process.
Churchill was one of seven schools selected in the state for the award, and one of only two high schools to be chosen, said Dr. Darla Strouse, the director of Maryland’s Blue Ribbon Schools Program for the Maryland State Department of Education.
The award is part of Maryland ’s No Child Left Behind/Blue Ribbon Schools Program that recognizes schools for high performance and/or significant improvement in student state achievement tests. Schools are selected based on the testing criteria. All winners are entered into a national Blue Ribbon contest.
Strouse said that no high schools had been selected in the last six years for the award. Churchill and River Hill High School in Howard County broke that trend, Strouse said. Churchill and the other Blue Ribbon schools will now be entered for consideration for the National Blue Ribbon Award.
“I AM EXHAUSTED from talking about all of your awards, and I could go on and on and on,” said Nancy S. Grasmick, the Maryland State Superintendent.
The selection process took into account many different facets that measure a school’s success, Grasmick said. First and foremost were aptitude tests, where Churchill scored in the top 10 percent nationally. More than one-third of Churchill’s students — 729 — took AP tests and 37 percent earned the highest possible score of five, Grasmick said.
The assessment of Churchill went back three years, Grasmick said, during which time the school has produced 25 National Merit Scholars and 169 Commended Merit Scholars, which Grasmick said was “another stunning achievement.” In addition Churchill had two Presidential Scholar finalists — Tudor Maican and Allen Yang.
The school’s success and achievements have continued outside of the classroom in recent years. The school’s newspaper, The Churchill Observer, won first place in the American Scholastic Press Association contest, and the yearbook Finest Hours received a Gold rating from the Maryland-District of Columbia Scholastic Press Association, as well as top honors from the Print Industries of America award, only two of which are given nation-wide, Grasmick said.
The school was also recently named a Grammy Signature School by the Grammy Foundation, Grasmick said.
The Bulldogs girls’ basketball team won two state championships in the last five years, the 2006 girls soccer team was named an academic All-American team with the nation’s eighth highest grade point average (4.08) and the golf team won its fifth consecutive state championship last fall.
Churchill’s chess team also won the Metro Area Chess League Championships, Grasmick said, eliciting a roar from the assembled crowd. The list of Churchill’s achievements that contributed to the Blue Ribbon honor went on, Grasmick said.
Strouse said that excellence in all areas is what makes a Blue Ribbon school.
"The music program is outstanding, the art program is outstanding... they're just teriffic across the board," said Strouse. "That's what you look for."