Anne Arundel County Public Schools has been recognized with a national award for its intentional focus to increase the ninth-grade promotion rate for high school students.

The school system is one of five across the nation with student populations of 20,000 or more to earn a first place Magna Award from the National School Boards Association and its flagship magazine,American School Board Journal. The awards “honor districts across the country for programs that break down barriers for underserved students,” according to the NSBA.

“This is work that is done behind the scenes with a quiet but determined and passionate focus on meeting each individual student’s needs,” Superintendent George Arlotto said. “It is, however, work that is critical to our ultimate goal to get students to the place where they earn a high school diploma. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of hard-working employees involved in this initiative in some way, and it is incredibly gratifying to have those efforts recognized with this award because it reinforces the fact that we are doing the right things for children.”

AACPS launched its initiative three years ago, putting a laser-like focus on students entering ninth grade. The school system looked at eighth-grade attendance, referral, and academic achievement data to establish “early warning indicators” for students at risk for being unsuccessful in ninth grade. That examination found that students on the indicator list were disproportionately poor and from African-American or Hispanic backgrounds.

AACPS implemented and enhanced strategies to provide differentiated supports based on student needs. It also redesigned meetings of high school principals to help create and augment structures necessary to support all students. Those structures continued to build leadership capacity and strengthened partnerships with Central Office staff members.

As the 2016-2017 school year got under way, AACPS identified nearly 1,600 incoming freshmen across 12 comprehensive high schools, Chesapeake Science Point, the Phoenix Academy, and the Mary Moss at J. Albert Adams Academy as being in danger of not being promoted to 10th grade at the end of the year. Through the work of the intentional focus, nearly 86 percent of them entered this school year as sophomores. Systemwide, nearly 96 percent of all ninth-graders last year earned promotions to 10th grade, putting them on a more solid path to graduation.

“Educational equity is a crucial issue today,” Thomas J. Gentzel, National School Boards Association Executive Director and CEO, said in announcing the winners. “These Magna Award winning districts are examples of how public schools all over the country are making sure each of their students gets the support and services they need to succeed in school and in life.”

All 18 winners are profiled in the April issue of theAmerican School Board Journal.The magazine can be found online here.