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4 LI schools awarded national 'blue ribbon'

Principal Michelle Burget and students at South Woods

Principal Michelle Burget and students at South Woods Middle School, which was one of four Long Island schools named a National Blue Ribbon School. ( Sept. 7, 2012) Credit: Linda Rosier

Four Long Island public schools won national "blue ribbons" Friday for academic achievement -- awards greeted with clapping and shouts from teachers, parents and other participants in the challenging competition.

Schools cited as "exemplary high performing" included Timber Point Elementary School in East Islip, Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, Mount Sinai Middle School in Mount Sinai and South Woods Middle School in Syosset. Those schools were among 269 public and private schools nationwide honored with ribbons by the U.S. Department of Education.

The announcement brought joy in the East Islip district, which experienced a bruising fight over financing during the spring school-budget season. PTA leaders meeting at the Timber Point school burst into cheers Friday as confirmation of the school's award appeared on the Internet.

"We all had a tough time this past spring, but this is really good news," said a jubilant school PTA president, Jamie Steves.

Jericho's Cantiague school also reverberated with applause as the award was announced on loudspeakers.

"We're beyond elated and proud," said Antony Sinanis, the school's principal.

Sinanis himself has been nominated for one of the federal Terrel Bell Awards, named for a former U.S. education secretary, which are awarded to outstanding school administrators. Winners will be announced in November.

He and administrators at the other three schools credited local teachers and parents, whose contributions are listed in voluminous application forms required by the blue-ribbon competition.

Timber Point's principal, Lisa Belz, said her school relies heavily on parent volunteers, who help run book fairs and an annual Veterans Day celebration, as well as cultural events tied to the district's curriculum. Belz praised teachers for maintaining high academic standards despite recent staff cuts and increases in class sizes.

"They really do rise to every occasion," she said.

Peter Pramataris, principal at Mount Sinai Middle School, attributed the award, in part, to emphasis on English instruction. All of the school's fifth- and sixth-graders receive 40 minutes of daily reading lessons and another 40 minutes of writing.

That scheduling allows Renee Petrola and other teachers to hone in on students' essay skills. Petrola, who teaches six daily classes, said she normally spends 90 minutes or more out-of-class each day grading papers written by her students, who generate more than 100 essays weekly.

"I have a passion for words and a passion for writing, and I want to leave a legacy to Mount Sinai," said Petrola, who has taught for 42 years and served on her school's award-application committee.

South Woods Middle School in Syosset takes particular pride in advanced math instruction. Staffers there said that all 258 of the school's eighth-graders successfully completed high-school-level Regents algebra courses during the 2011-12 school year, and 65 percent of those students achieved scores of 85 or better, signifying subject mastery.

Eighth-graders also have the option of taking high-school-level science.

"We do all that and we also have fun," said principal Michelle Burget, who cited an annual fundraising event, "Dancing With the Faculty," in which students score the performance of dancing teachers.

The blue-ribbon honors were announced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. A recognition ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 12-13 in Washington, D.C.

Blue ribbons, which have been bestowed on nearly 7,000 schools over the past 30 years, recognize two categories of achievement: "Exemplary High Performing" for schools with exceptional scores on standardized tests, and "Exemplary Improving" for schools with rising scores and at least 40 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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