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Newfound named 2010 School of Excellence

High school honored in surprise ceremony

Pictured are (l-r) Newfound Regional High School Principal Michael O’Malley, Bristol Elementary School Principal and EDies Board member Ken Darsney, EDies Board members Barbara Gondek and Holly St. Hillaire, NRHS student Stratton Lingsch, McDonalds District Manager Larry Johnston and EDies Chairman Dr. Michael Jette presenting the banner for the EDies Awards, as NRHS was named the 2010 School of Excellence. (click for larger version)
May 15, 2010
BRISTOL — Newfound Regional High School has received one of the state's most prestigious academic honors, as it has been selected as the 2010 Secondary School of Excellence, one of the recipients of this year's New Hampshire Excellence in Education Awards ("ED"ies).

The announcement came in a surprise ceremony last Wednesday, May 5. The entire NRHS student body and staff gathered in the auditorium first to honor the school's inaugural class of New Hampshire Scholars. Once the students had been honored, NRHS Principal introduced a special award going to all the students, and the curtains were drawn back to reveal EDies board members, who shocked the audience as Chairman Dr. Michael Jette announced Newfound Regional High School as the 2010 winner, one of only two secondary schools in the state to receive the honor.

The EDies were not a surprise to the students, who were well aware of the awards and directly involved in the school's evaluation when a team came to observe the school two months ago. The students had no idea they were heading into the auditorium that day not only to honor their top seniors, but also the success of the school as a whole. As the announcement sank in, a wave of excitement hit the audience as students cheered and celebrated a true honor to the school and its community.

As principal, O'Malley was one of the few who knew of the award before the ceremony. "It was brutal," he said of hanging onto the secret. "The day I got the call, I wanted to go right out and tell the school and celebrate. I can see why they do it though, and I'd do it again; seeing the excitement, and having everyone together and know it and feel it at once was a real novelty."

The EDies process begins in December, when all schools interested in participating submit an application outlining the school's strengths. The schools whose applications are accepted are called upon in February to send a team of 7-8 staff members to present to the selection committee and answer questions about the school. The finalists then have a team visit the school in March, where they get a first-hand account of life at the school.

Newfound was not new to this process, having been a finalist the year before. Though they were ultimately not selected, the return trip provided an opportunity to show just what NRHS was able to build upon in the year since they were last observed. "We put ourselves on the line to show that in the first year, we were unfinished and had plans, and the (this) year put those plans in action," said O'Malley.

The day opened with a half-hour presentation on the school, the students putting together a mock-up of the EDies as a red carpet event, which proved memorable with the EDies team. The team also gathered students to share and discuss work they'd produced during the year, observed classes in session and even sat and talked with students during lunch, capturing them at what might be their rawest, but at the same time most insightful into the attitudes of the NRHS community. Many students came forward to help represent their school, volunteering for the presentation or offering to show and discuss their work.

Once the EDies team was done, it was just a matter of waiting.

At the ceremony, Dr. Jette praised NRHS for upholding the standards evaluated in finding the School of Excellence, among them the personalized and individualized education of each and every student; the rigorous standards set by the students and faculty; community involvement, educator empowerment and the results produced. Larry Johnston, District Manager of McDonalds, the EDies major sponsor, also took the opportunity to praise the school and SAU 4 Superintendent Marie Ross, noting how proud he was that McDonalds could help find the best schools in the state, and to be able to present Newfound with one of the highest honors available to New Hampshire schools.

The award has been a major boost to NRHS even as it gears up for the end of the school year. "Even this week, there's a lot of overflow in relation to, 'Okay, I can do this'," said O'Malley. "There's momentum. It was really the beginning of something big. It's a good foundation for us, as well as an accomplishment."

The school has plenty more to prove as well. "We're not finished," said O'Malley. "We're going to build. We're planning to form the pathways that really have to include 461 out of 461 kids. This is a real boost to them to know they're in the right place to do that."

To learn more about the NH Excellence in Education Awards, visit edies.org.

Varney Smith
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