When the United States Department of Education released its list of schools on the exclusive 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools list, there were doubts that any local or regional school would earn such a prestigious honor.
However, in a bit of a surprise, although no school currently on the School District of Philadelphia’s roster made it, there were eight schools throughout Pennsylvania that made the list of 269 elite schools, and according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, there wasn’t a fluke nomination among them.
“Greats schools don’t happen by chance. Great schools happen by choice,” Duncan said in remarks made during the announcement of this year’s winners. “The National Blue Ribbon Schools are the best of what our country has to offer. They are models for schools across the country.”
One such school is Colonial School District member Ridge Park Elementary School. The Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based school has 369 students, and its principal, Dr. Michael McKenna, said his school was honored by the award, and reiterated the hard work done by his extended school community was necessary in receiving the honor.
“It wasn’t something we shot for as [the Blue Ribbon nomination] wasn’t in our sight set,” McKenna said, noting that he and his staff were first alerted of the nomination last fall and subsequently embarked on a lengthy application process. “We had to prove, in a very comprehensive way, why our school is worthy of a Blue Ribbon.
“We found out that we were selected in June,” McKenna continued. “And it is a credit to our staff of their hard work and teamwork. It has really brought the school together, and when all the hard work is recognized is a great feeling.”
McKenna said he exposes his students to a great wealth of activities and initiatives, including morning walk-around sessions for fitness and specifically tailoring the education-delivery system for individual students.
“We practice differentiation, where we look at what kids need and create individual plans for them,” McKenna said. “We really take a hard look at each child, and don’t teach to a specific curriculum. We do a lot of things here, including before-school activities that support students in math and reading.
“We teach the whole child here.”
Colonial School District Superintendent Dr. MaryEllen Gorodetzer was thrilled for Ridge Park Elementary School while echoing McKenna’s feelings on the hard work needed to reach obtain the honor.
“This is certainly a special honor for Ridge Park Elementary School and the entire Colonial School District,” Gorodetzer said. “Receiving the nation’s highest education award is a testament to our administrators, teachers and curriculum staff and validates our philosophy of strong staff development and a consistent curriculum which engages students to think independently and solve real-world problems creatively.”
The Royersford, PA-based Spring-Ford Middle School 8th Grade Center – which has 547 students and enjoys a 12:1 student-teacher ratio - also received a Blue Ribbon honor, and in a letter sent home to students, Spring-Ford Area School District President Thomas DiBello credited the “dedicated collaboration and shared vision between administrators, staff, the school board, parents and students” for making the honor possible.
“This is a tremendous distinction and honor for the district and school because much effort and attention has been devoted to delivering a top-caliber education for our students,” DiBello wrote. “The positive strides made by Eighth-Grade Center administrators, teachers and staff should be commended. They put forth educational goals and exceeded them through hard work and perseverance. Through this entire process, educators kept their students in mind by establishing essential goals for improving the learning environment.”
The other Pennsylvania-based National Blue Ribbon-winning schools are Allegheny One Elementary School in Duncansville (which was scheduled for closure by the Hollidaysburg Area School District); Infinity Charter School in Penbrook; Paradise Elementary School in Thomasville; Seneca Valley Middle School in Harmony and the Windber-based Windber Elementary School.
Paradise Elementary and Windber Elementary share a further distinction of being the only schools to receive a Blue Ribbon while educating a student body consisting of at least 40 percent of at-risk or disadvantaged students.
“Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential,” Duncan said. “Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future.”