What happens when you bring representatives of 340 exemplary American schools together?
Collaboration and engagement!
Euphoria, emotion, and energy characterized the two-day celebration of the 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools in Washington, D.C., on November 10th and 11th. The Blue Ribbon Award recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
More than 800 school representatives and supporters shared stories and ideas with one another and discussed how they could take their success stories to struggling schools across the country.
Secretary Arne Duncan answered questions from the assembled high-powered educators on topics ranging from early college high schools, early childhood education, and academic rigor.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning Libby Doggett kicked off the ceremony with a talk on student equity and empowerment. Former Superintendent of the Year Marcus Johnson rocked the room with stories of the “tenacious love” of school personnel. Sean McComb, the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, brought the audience to its feet with his deeply personal account of the instrumental role two high school teachers played at a critical moment in his life.
For eight principals, the ceremony occasioned a well-deserved moment in the spotlight as they were recognized with the 2014 Terrel H. Bell award for outstanding school leadership. The award, named for former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel Bell, honored these exemplary principals:
- Alicia Aceves of Andrews School in Whittier, CA brought her extensive reading background to focus intensely on student’s reading and writing skills through a school-wide Professional Learning Community and a daily intensive reading and writing block.
- Candis Hagaman of Caldwell Early College High School in Hudson, NC restructured the rural high school to challenge students with college-level courses and create a robust, transparent, community of practice among faculty. Caldwell now graduates 100% of seniors.
- Kathy Hunt of Edmond Doyle Elementary School in McAlester, OK, also the school’s arts teacher, has used an all-hands on deck approach, engaging all adults in her school and the business community to focus on improving student achievement in a high-needs community.
- Melissa Helene Jacobs-Thibaut of Houston Academy for International Studies in Houston, TX began the school in 2006 to provide opportunities for first-generation college-goers and equips students with national and international travel experiences and rigorous project-based learning.
- Robert Kern, Jr. of Nazareth Area Middle School in Nazareth, PA, came on board as the school was rebuilding its physical plant and struggling to exit academic warning status. Kern finessed both and introduced daily remediation/enrichment, character education, and a focus on the arts and health.
- Robert Lyall of St. Patrick’s Catholic School in Kingman, KS led his rural school through its demolition and reconstruction as a high-achieving school that now trains other schools in data use and differentiated teaching. Tapping his staff’s expertise, he has created a safe, culturally rich environment.
- Mario Marcos of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Compton, CA, focuses his school’s turnaround efforts around a philosophy that “Excuses Perpetuate Failure” and has rallied staff, families, and students to develop afterschool academic supports, project-based learning experiences, and character education.
- Britani Creel Moses of LaVace Stewart Elementary School in Kemah, TX closed her school’s achievement gap by introducing a two-way bilingual Spanish-English curriculum, a vibrant pre-K program, a summer program for struggling students, and mentoring programs for both students and teachers.
Aba S. Kumi is director of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program at the U.S. Department of Education.