The Appoquinimink District school is one of three in Delaware that will be honored as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. This is the second year in a row an Appoquininimink school has received the national award.

The Appoquinimink School District’s Cedar Lane Elementary will be one of three Delaware schools honored as National Blue Ribbon Schools in Washington, D.C. Nov. 8.

In October, the U.S. Department of Education announced America’s 349 newest National Blue Ribbon Schools, an honor reserved for institutions that demonstrate academic excellence, a strong school culture, opportunity for all students and continued progress among all students.

Joining Middletown’s Cedar Lane Elementary on the list from Delaware are Lake Forest South Elementary School in Felton and Selbyville Middle School in Selbyville.

“Being named a Blue Ribbon School requires incredible commitment at every level,” said Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting. “It takes strong and focused school leaders, a committed team of staff, dedicated parents and volunteers, eager students, and a culture that inspires excellence.”

Cedar Lane Principal Melisa Stilwell said every member of the staff plays a role in supporting student success and closing achievement gaps.

“We do what’s best for kids and that’s truly a team effort,” Stilwell said.

Appoquinimink Superintendent Matt Burrows and the Appoquinimink Board of Education honored Cedar Lane staff and students at the Oct. 9 board meeting.

“We could not be more proud of you,” said Burrows. “When I come to Cedar Lane, I see engaging content, I see project-based learning, I see student leadership, social and emotional learning, positive behavior systems, and an extraordinary commitment to meeting each child's unique needs.”

This is the second straight year an Appoquinimink School District elementary school has been named to the prestigious list. Olive B. Loss Elementary School in Bear was the district’s first National Blue Ribbon School.

“We're proud of this tremendous accomplishment and all that it represents,” said Richard Forsten, president of the Appoquinimink Board of Education. “Our Blue Ribbon schools serve as an inspiring model for great teaching, learning, and quality outcomes for every child.”

Now in its 36th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has recognized more than 8,800 schools across America. A review of key drivers for excellence reveals that regardless of public or non-public status, size, level, diversity or the percentage of disadvantaged students, about 65 percent of all Blue Ribbon honorees attributed their success to student supports or instruction.

Cedar Lane is the fastest-growing elementary school in the district. After adding more than 100 new students each of the past three years, the school had to use modular classrooms for additional space and find ways to save classroom space inside the main building like “Spanish on a cart” and “STEM on a cart” where the teachers visit the students. A new district elementary school, Lorewood Grove Elementary, is planned for an opening in fall 2019 to provide relief.


Cedar Lane Principal Melisa Stilwell answered questions about the keys to the school’s success and the effects of the Blue Ribbon program.

How did you overcome the challenge of rampant growth?

Everyone needs to feel safe, secure and confident in order to focus on learning. That’s why one of our biggest priorities has been ensuring that all new our new students and staff are acclimated to the school culture and environment in a deliberate and caring way.

If you had to identify one practice that has played a big part in your success, what would it be?

I would have to say the professional development (PD) opportunities available for staff. We believe in a highly differentiated approach and reject the idea that “one size fits all.” Last year on PD days, we offered as many as 20 different options to choose from, including before- and afterschool sessions, a summer boot camp for new teachers, and refined peer-to-peer walkthroughs with collaborative reviews.

How has the National Blue Ribbon award impacted your school?

The staff love what they do and are relentless in their pursuit to meet the needs of all children. But the nomination process compelled us to look very deliberately at the practices we’ve developed to support the whole child. I think it brought us even closer together and solidified our commitment to initiatives like “The Leader In Me,” flexible learning spaces, and the deliberate teaching of social and emotional skills to strengthen connections – individually, culturally and developmentally.

What’s next for Cedar Lane?

Right now, our focus is getting the new school year off to a strong start for Cedar Lane learners.

Teacher of the Year Sara Anderson, Superintendent Matt Burrows and I have been invited to Washington, D.C. to accept the Blue Ribbon award on Nov. 8. There will be workshops where we’ll have an opportunity to meet with, and learn from other Blue Ribbon Schools and education think-tank leaders, and we hope to bring exciting new ideas back to our building.

In mid-November, at a date we’ll be sharing soon, we plan to announce a school-wide celebration for students, staff and their families.