A new banner flies high over a small rural school nestled in a Kansas River valley. Students and staff at St. George Elementary School in northeast Kansas cheered loudly on Nov. 19, as the new blue-and-white flag was unfurled and raised to celebrate St. George being named a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
What makes St. George successful? Individualized instruction. St. George is a multi-age, continuous-progress school that advances students through the curriculum as fast as they are able to master the material. Textbooks are used as supplemental information only. Instead, teachers write their own thematic units for students that allow them to make meaningful connections between content and the real world—while still teaching Kansas state standards. It is not easy, but this focus on student achievement keeps the staff united. “Teachers and staff go above and beyond, putting in many extra hours to ensure that students achieve,” said Debbie Edwards, who has been a principal for 21 years.
Sherry White, special education teacher, believes the key to the school’s success lies in this combination of individualized instruction and hard work, which creates a dynamic school team. “Everybody looks out for everyone. Even special education teachers receive assistance from all staff in working hard at educating the individual child,” she said. “We use assessments to target areas of strengths and weaknesses, and adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of students. So far my school year has been incredible.”
St. George is part of the Rock Creek School District and is the second school (of three) in the district to achieve Blue Ribbon status. Educators in the district are hoping that the third school, Westmoreland Elementary, will be nominated in the future so that the district will be three for three!
Before joining the Department of Education, Jeanne Ackerson taught for 20 years in Kansas City, Mo., public schools. She is based in the Department’s Region VII office in Kansas City, which is responsible for outreach to Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.