MURTAUGH — Murtaugh School has received a nationwide award for helping close the achievement gap among at-risk students.

The Idaho State Department of Education announced Thursday the school is among two in the Gem State to be named a National Title I Distinguished School.

It’s the biggest award the Murtaugh School has ever won. And only seven Idaho schools — including Dworshak Elementary School in Burley in 2012 — have ever gotten it.

School district Superintendent Michele Capps found out about the award on Thanksgiving Day. She said it’s a huge honor.

“The biggest secret is, of course, hiring the best teachers and support staff,” she said. “That’s the most important ingredient.”

Another factor: “We are also very progressive,” Capps said. For six years, the school has provided one mobile computing device per student. Plus, “we’ve been doing some innovative teaching strategies and I think that has done a lot, too.”

The distinguished schools, including Murtaugh, will be honored in February at a national Title I conference in Philadelphia. A couple of Murtaugh teachers will accept the award during the event.

Title I schools qualify for federal funding to provide extra services due to having a high percentage of students living in poverty. That’s based on free and reduced-price school lunch numbers.

More than 75 percent of Murtaugh students are from economically disadvantaged households.

About seven years ago, Murtaugh’s middle school was identified for having an issue with math achievement, Capps said.

Instead of having three separate schools, the school district restructured to be considered one kindergarten through 12th grade campus so funds for boosting achievement could be used for the entire school.

Murtaugh has nearly 400 students, and more than 20 percent of them come from outside the school district’s boundaries, Capps said. Also, “we’re having a lot of people moving back into the community and building homes here.”

The state is recognizing four schools this year — including Murtaugh — for their results in helping at-risk students.

Harold B. Lee Elementary School in Dayton is the other Title I Distinguished School Award recipient. Lincoln Elementary School in Rexburg and Garwood Elementary School in Rathdrum are Idaho’s nominees for the National Blue Ribbon School Award.

They’ll each receive a $15,000 award from state Title I funds.

“This is truly one of the best parts of my job, recognizing Idaho schools and educators for outstanding efforts in helping their students achieve regardless of background, economic status or prior performance levels,” state superintendent of public instruction Sherri Ybarra said in a statement Thursday. “With skill, hard work and individual attention, these educators accomplish amazing things.”

Murtaugh School is being recognized specifically for helping to close the achievement gap.

“Once identified as among the lowest-performing schools in Idaho, the school is now in the top quarter of all Idaho schools in the percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency in both English language arts and mathematics,” according to the statement.

To qualify for the Title I Distinguished School Award, a school must have at least a 35 percent poverty rate among students’ families, demonstrate high academic achievement for at least two consecutive years, and meet or exceed state criteria for student achievement for two consecutive years.

“Our test scores have increased significantly in the last several years,” Capps said. Now, Murtaugh is in the top tier among all Idaho schools.

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