By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor
Four elementary schools within the Archdiocese of Louisville have been named U.S. Department of Education 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools.
Though the schools of the archdiocese are regular winners of such national recognition, this year marks the first time that so many schools have been honored in the same year. This year’s winners are:
– St. Aloysius School in Pewee Valley, Ky.
– Holy Spirit School at 322 Cannons Lane.
– St. Patrick School at 1000 N. Beckley Station Road.
The awards were announced Sept. 30 in Washington, D.C. by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the schools will officially accept their national honors during ceremonies in Washington on Nov. 10 and 11. The four schools are among nine in the state of Kentucky to win the 2014 award. According to the Department of Education, 337 schools in 47 states were honored, including 239 elementary schools. Fifty of those honored nationwide are parochial or private schools.
St. Agnes School is being recognized for the third time, having also been named a Blue Ribbon School in 1999 and 2005. Holy Spirit School won the honor in 2007, and first-time winners are St. Patrick and St. Aloysius schools.
A school wide celebration was held at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at St. Agnes, but as of press time, the other trio of winners had yet to determine when they’d be holding parties or pep rallies to recognize their achievements. Even for a three-time winner such as St. Agnes School, the excitement of the award announcement never becomes old hat, said principal Julie Daly.
“We’re so excited to have won it for the third time,” she said. “That speaks to the great consistency in the St. Agnes community, and its school program. It also speaks to the enduring effects of just doing good works here.”
But it especially gives testimony to the parish’s and school’s sense of teamwork and community, she said. “That sense of community is why we’ve been able to continue academic excellence over a period of years.”
Winning the national award involves a long and complicated process. Schools must first meet the criteria of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) — which means their test scores must be in the top 15 percent of schools nationwide, said Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.
“CAPE recognizes 50 schools out of a couple hundred to a couple of thousand schools that attempt to qualify,” said Dr. Michael Bratcher, principal at St. Patrick School. “Then CAPE sends those 50 schools on to the Department of Education for their consideration and final determination of the winners. It is a long, involved and complicated process.”
Schulz said she and others involved in education at the archdiocese Office of Lifelong Formation and Education, were “absolutely delighted that we’ve had so many schools chosen at the same time.”
“As far as I can tell, we’ve had a couple of schools honored in the same year at times in the past,” she recalled in a telephone interview Sept. 29. “But never before have we had this many.”
To Doris Swenson, principal of Holy Spirit School, the recognition is “both an affirmation and a validation of what teachers, students and parents put into the education at our school.”
“We’re having parent-teacher conferences all this week, and then we’re off on Friday so I don’t know when we’ll have our celebration,” she said. “But we’ll have a big one. We’ll make some special shirts for students and staff and we’ll have a big school-wide party.”
Like Swenson, St. Patrick School’s principal, Dr. Michael Bratcher, gave credit to “our teachers and students for their hard work and dedication to the mission and vision of our parish school.”
“The announcement that we have become a Blue Ribbon School … is very humbling and exciting,” he added. “Our students and teachers have worked diligently for this distinct honor.”
Completing the laborious process of becoming nationally honored, he said, is also testimony to the committee of teachers who worked on the application process. And he noted that the national award is the second honor to come St. Patrick School’s way in recent days. Today’s Catholic Teacher magazine, he reported, has named the school its “October School of the Month.”
Maryann Hayslip of St. Aloysius School, said her 390 students, teachers and parents would be celebrating their national honor sometime during the week of Oct. 13 to 17.
Like her counterparts and the school superintendent, Hayslip is delighted with the recognition the Pewee Valley school has earned.
She said they started the application process in the fall of 2012, “then did some more work on it over the summer. Finally, we submitted our application in December. After all the various hurdles and standards you have to meet, to be recognized is really rewarding.”
That rigorous application process sometimes keeps schools from even vying for the honor, Schulz said. “We’ve had experiences where schools qualified in terms of their test scores, but didn’t represent the scores in the way directions told them, and that threw them back into the process. So attention to details must be 100 percent. It really is demanding.”
Nevertheless, Schulz said the school system already has “several more schools that have applied for the 2015 honor because they’ve (met the CAPE qualifications) for 2014, based on their test scores.”
“These honors not only speak to the overall excellence of our schools,” she said, “but to our work on the school improvement plan. People have worked very hard to get test scores within the top 15 percent nationwide, and we’re very blessed and very fortunate to have our schools receive such national recognition.”