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Harlan honored

W.S. Harlan principal Brent Zessin likes to say his school is full of winners — winners leading the classrooms, winners behind the desks and winners in the homes of the Lockhart and Florala communities.

Friday, state education department officials seconded Zessin’s opinion by celebrating not only the school’s recent “Blue Ribbon” award, but also announcing the school was chosen as a 2010 Title I “Distinguished School” — an honor given to only two schools in the state and 57 nationwide.

More than 50 former educators, principals and local and state dignitaries attended the day’s celebration, which began with comments from Principal Brent Zessin, who has been in charge of the school for the last five years.

“When people ask me how we do it at W.S. Harlan — how do we win the awards and get the test scores we do, I say, ‘I just show up,’” Zessin said. “When I look out over the crowd, I say these are the people who do it — the teachers, the former educators, the board members and our students.

“When I first became principal — and I came from being a coach for 20 years — I told my teachers that I hate to lose. I want (WSH) to be number one. I want to be first in the county, the best in the state and the best in the nation.

“That day is here today,” he said.

Within the last four years, the school has received more than $66,000 in award money for outstanding test scores, been named a “Torchbearer” school, a state Top-10 elementary school and recently one of five “Blue Ribbon” schools in the state by the U.S. Department of Education.

W.S. Harlan was chosen as a Title I Distinguished School, by “demonstrating strength” in the following areas:

Opportunity for all children to meet proficient and advanced levels of performance.

Strong professional development.

Coordination with other programs.

Curriculum and instruction to support achievement of high standards.

Partnerships among schools, parents and communities.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) presented Zessin with the “Blue Ribbon” plaque and described the school as a “shining light of success” for the education system.