Great Neck Middle School gets national spotlight

At Great Neck Middle School, teachers focus on making sure students are engaged and learning life skills, not just memorizing facts in a textbook, Principal Gene Solter said.

“It’s not about teaching,” he said. “It’s about learning.”

The approach appears to be working.

Great Neck Middle was named a National Blue Ribbon School last week, joining 11 other Virginia schools on the list.

“[This award] validates all that we have done and all that we do,” Solter said.

The U.S. Department of Education uses its Blue Ribbon program to recognize “public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups,” according to the department’s website.

Great Neck was the only middle school in Virginia to receive the distinction this year. The Beach’s Hermitage Elementary School was a Blue Ribbon recipient in 2014.

Great Neck’s reading and math scores ranked in the top 15 percent of all schools in Virginia. Its student subgroups, including those who qualify for free or reduced lunch, placed within the top 40 percent in reading and math.

Virginia Beach Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence called the Blue Ribbon designation an “extraordinary achievement.”

“And it showcases the dedication of Great Neck’s staff to continually pursue academic excellence for every student in their building, every day,” he said in a statement.

Solter attributed the achievement to a mix of leadership from administrators, dedication from teachers, desire to learn from students and support from the community.

Great Neck has about 1150 students, many of whom belong to military families. The school uses what it calls a “road map for rigor and relevance” in which it analyzes data on student attendance, discipline, testing standards, achievement gaps and school climate, according to its application to the Blue Ribbon program. Its building is also relatively new, having opened its doors in January 2012, and has earned the LEED Gold Certification for its sustainability.

The school will be presented the Blue Ribbon award in November at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

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