At Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary School, success and hard work go hand in hand. Teachers and staff celebrate successes with parents, students, and community partners. The relationships among these groups contribute to a shared school vision and foundation of a strong home and school connection. Included in the school vision are norms such as high expectations for all, honest and open lines of communication, and the building of trust in relationships.

It is these norms, and the support of all stakeholders, that have helped students at Dr. Mudd reach higher levels of both personal and academic achievement. For these successes, Dr. Mudd was recently honored as a National ESEA Distinguished School. The designation honors Title I schools for outstanding achievements in one of three categories: exceptional student performance, closing the achievement gap, and excellence in serving special populations of students.

Only two schools per state are chosen for the annual nationwide recognition. Dr. Mudd is the second Charles County public school to receive the honor.

Dr. Mudd was honored for its efforts in closing the achievement gap between student groups for two or more consecutive years. Principal Orlena Whatley said it is the school climate and expectations that have contributed to the success of the entire school community. “We are shaping the school culture that will have a significant impact on student achievement. At Dr. Mudd, our culture is built on the premise of family. As a family, we seek to strengthen our bond by the work we do for our village,” Whatley said.

Schools are nominated for the honor by their respective state education agency. Dr. Mudd is one of only 57 schools across the United States to receive the honor this year.

The award, administered by the National Association of ESEA, or Elementary and Secondary Education Act, State Program Administrators (NAESPA), was established to recognize Title I schools for outstanding achievements. Title I is a federal program that provides additional funding to schools with students who are economically disadvantaged in order to promote equal access. There are eight Title I elementary schools in Charles County. Dr. Mudd is the largest Title I school in Charles County with an enrollment of more than 600 students this school year.

Dr. Mudd’s nomination was submitted through the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) on behalf of the school and the CCPS Title I office. Kristin Shields, Title I program director for CCPS, said she could not think of a school more deserving of recognition for increased achievement than Dr. Mudd.

“The CCPS Office of Title I was proud to nominate Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Elementary as a National Distinguished ESEA School. A strong commitment to academic excellence, community support, a staff who believes in all children’s potential, and relationships with stakeholders are what have made Dr. Mudd Elementary so successful. Over the last several years, Dr. Mudd Elementary has greatly increased student achievement due to the dedication and hard work of its staff, students, and families,” Shields said.

Parents and students agree that it is the focus on positive relationships, parent engagement and high expectations that make Dr. Mudd a successful school. Parents are encouraged to be active partners with their child’s teachers and take part in school-led workshops, events and their child’s education. Students are celebrated for their accomplishments and shown that kindness and hard work make a difference.

Community partners and faith-based organizations consistently collaborate with Dr. Mudd to support events, programs, meal distribution and more. Dr. Mudd is a place where its stakeholders want to be. More importantly, a place where students want to be. This is demonstrated by the commitment Dr. Mudd students show to their learning. Students are in class, engaged and achieving success. Their commitment to learning is apparent.

Valerie Lott is the Dr. Mudd Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) president. Her child has been a student at Dr. Mudd since kindergarten. Lott said the biggest change she has experienced as a Dr. Mudd parent is the enhanced focus on parent communication and family engagement.

“I noticed a major increase in family engagement, the understanding that it takes a village to raise children. There is a partnership in place among parents, staff and students. Communication is consistent. The school communicating with me and me communicating with the school has set my child up for success,” Lott said.

Lott said she has also noticed an increase on the focus of social-emotional success. Students learn not only how to be ready to learn, but how to be good people. “Staff really love their students and go above and beyond. With Ms. Whatley on board, the outpour of love and support has increased. Staff focus on the kids’ social emotional well-being… how to be a kind person and good student… how to set goals. I love the fact that they [staff] take this component and insert it into a child’s life,” Lott said. 

Lott’s daughter, Dylan, is exceling in the virtual classroom. The fourth grader is in Ms. Forbes’ class and said she loves being a Dr. Mudd student. “What I love about Dr. Mudd are the teachers and assistants. They are like family to me and care for me. I can go to them for anything. School is family oriented and we have fun times with learning,” Lott said.

At the start of every school year, staff review the schoolwide behavior plan including the 3 R’s – respect, responsibility and the right to learn. The plan details consistent rules for students and how to incorporate Positive, Behavioral, Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in the classroom. PBIS initiatives coupled with consistency in rules help to support a safe environment for learning. This also supports relationship building in the school and helps to create a community of learners.

Teachers are leaders at Dr. Mudd and ignited by a common passion. They understand the importance of modeling best practices and help mentor new teachers. Teachers work collaboratively and collectively towards the mission and vision of the school. The mindset among teachers is that everyone must feel connected to the work in order for the work to happen. This is the mindset at Dr. Mudd.

Whatley instills in her staff a desire to be great and in turn, her teachers pass this on to their students. Expectations are high, but when children are shown they can achieve higher levels of success, they rise to the occasion. Whatley credits a strong foundation, but more so her staff and teachers for helping children achieve high levels of success.

“We ask our staff to dig deep and do the work. This isn’t about me… I am not in the classroom teaching these kids. This is all on my staff. That hard work paid off… the kids were able to demonstrate and show that all children, regardless of their background, regardless of color, children who are taught at a high level can achieve at a high level,” Whatley said.

Norma Williams is a longtime teacher at Dr. Mudd. She began teaching at the school in 1998 and said it is the bond among staff, parents and the students that have kept her heart in education for so long. “The staff here has always been a staff that wants to do the best for children. I think it is why I have stayed here all these years. Attendance is a priority and children are accountable for being on time. It makes a big difference. If a child is not here, we cannot teach them. The foundation is here and we build on it each and every day,” Williams said.

School staff hope to plan an in-person award recognition ceremony in the spring so all school stakeholders can be present to celebrate. Dr. Mudd will be honored alongside other schools chosen for recognition by the NAESPA at the ESEA Conference Feb. 8-11.

The National ESEA Distinguished Schools Program recognizes qualifying federally-funded schools for outstanding student achievements. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides additional resources for vulnerable students and federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of public education.


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