They danced, they shouted, they boogied across the stage, reveling in the highest achievement a school can hope to achieve—National Blue Ribbon School recognition. Principals and teachers from the 2011 Blue Ribbon Schools convened at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15, where Secretary Arne Duncan praised the awardees, saying, “You are demonstrating what excellence in education means. We need to take what you do to scale. We want to learn about the best practices you have so they can be shared with the schools around the country that are struggling.”
America’s Superintendent of the Year Marc Johnson, and leader of a district with a 2011 Blue Ribbon School, has done just that. He noted that you have to know how far his school has come to really appreciate this award. In 2004, his Sanger Academy Charter School in California’s Sanger Unified School District was designated a program improvement school for not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets and being in the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state. “We wanted to get from worst to first,” he said.
This is our third blue ribbon school in the district in three years, not to mention having 13 California Schools of Distinction and 17 Distinguished Title I schools. It becomes a point of pride for our entire community. These awards help instill a belief in our community and our students—that they can succeed, but beyond that, we have become a catalyst for our entire region. Other school districts have seen what we’ve done, and they become empowered and say, ‘We can do what they do!’
Blue Ribbon Schools’ program director Aba Kumi greeted each of the 300 recipients as if his or her school were the first and only. Kumi, who has managed the program for five years, said, “It is such a joy for me to be here and have the Secretary and everyone recognize our Blue Ribbon schools. This is the culmination of a long, hard process, but it is completely worth it!”
Award recipients also had an opportunity to attend several breakout sessions over the two-day celebration, including a panel of principals discussing what they do to build their teachers’ and students’ capacity. Jeff La Roux, director of the Meadow Montessori High School in Monroe, Michigan and incoming president of the Association for Middle Level Education, said, “It all boils down to building relationships and trust with the staff and students. If people trust you, you can even give them bad news, and they will still follow your leadership. If there is trust, you will all go through the tough times together.”
ED’s 2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellows conducted four sessions for attendees on: Preparing for the Common Core Standards; Measuring Student Achievement; Creating a Voice for Educators in School Improvement and Policy; and Engaging Families and Communities in the Education Dialogue.
“Blue Ribbon school teachers and principals who participated in the Common Core/College- and Career-Ready Standards session, for example, developed a repertoire of best practices for professional development, which could help ensure successful implementation of these rigorous goals,” explained Gregory Mullenholz, the TAF who facilitated that breakout.
As part of the Blue Ribbon Schools Program, seven principals from the 2011 Blue Ribbon Schools received the Terrel H. Bell Award for outstanding work in fostering successful teaching and learning. The award, named after the former secretary of education, honors leaders who have overcome challenging circumstances to provide an excellent education for every student. Awardees include:
- Karen Daugherty, Rose Tree Elementary School, Media, Pa.
- Deirdra Gardner, Piedmont Open Middle School, Charlotte, N.C.
- Nichole Heyen, Lincoln Magnet School, Springfield, Ill.
- Lauren Kinney, Sundance Elementary School, Beaumont, Calif.
- Traci Jackson, Shirley Hills Elementary School, Warner Robins, Ga.
- Karen Noble, Hillcrest Elementary School, Nederland, Texas
- Jack Spatola, Beacon School of Excellence, PS 172, Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Speaking with some of the Terrell Bell Award winners reminded me of the power of a strong school leader,” said Genevieve DeBose, the TAF facilitator for the school improvement and policy session. “As a teacher it’s empowering to work with a school leader of that caliber,” she added.
Blog submitted by Helen Littlejohn, Regional Director of Communications and Outreach, Western States.