Switzerland County Elementary earns Blue Ribbon: Highest national honor for a school

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Switzerland County Elementary School has been notified by the U.S. Department of Education that the school has earned a National Blue Ribbon Award. The award is a part of the “No Child Left Behind” program of the Department of Education, and is the highest honor that a school can win nationally.

Nationally there are more than 100,000 public schools — not including private schools. This year only 295 schools across the nation were honored. That puts Switzerland County Elementary among the elite schools in the entire nation.

“When you think about that, it’s just incredible,” Switzerland County School Superintendent Tracy Caddell said. “This is the second year in a row that one of our elementary schools has been honored nationally. We’re one of a very small minority that has more than one Blue Ribbon School in our corporation. I am very proud of the effort that our teachers, staff, and students have put forth to earn this honor.”

The superintendent was notified of the award last Thursday afternoon, and Switzerland County Elementary principal Dr. Elizabeth Jones delivered the news to the school staff at special meeting Friday morning before the school day got underway. The school was nominated last spring by Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Suellen Reed, and was one of very few public schools in the state to be nominated.

At Friday morning’s meeting, teachers thought they were being called to the library to congratulate fellow teachers Missy Morris and Denise Andrews, who made a presentation about the success of the school this past Monday at the state convention of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents — in itself a prestigious honor.

“Our teachers will make their presentation on Monday, and the theme of that presentation takes everyone on a journey from when this school was on probation to being recognized as a Four-Star School,” Dr. Jones told her staff. “I am very happy and proud today to tell you that they can add another chapter, because we are now a National Blue Ribbon School honoree.”

With that announcement, teachers clapped and rejoiced in celebration.

Switzerland County Elementary School was one of 11 schools in the state to be honored with a Blue Ribbon, and was one of only six public schools honored. There were only two other public elementary schools honored: Dixie Bee Elementary School in Terre Haute; and Rhoades Elementary School in Indianapolis.

Other public schools in Indiana earning a Blue Ribbon included Clay Middle School in Carmel; Hamilton Southeastern High School; and Zionsville Middle School. All three are suburbs of Indianapolis and have much large tax bases to pull from.

“In Indiana, most of the schools honored were either private schools or schools like Carmel and Hamilton Southeastern with large assessments,” Tracy Caddell said. “Those schools have a lot of money to support them.”

Private schools in Indiana earning the honor were: Holy Family School in New Albany; Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Indianapolis; Saint Michael School in Greenfield; St. Simon the Apostle School in Indianapolis; and St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis.

This is the second year in a row that the U.S. Department of Education has honored only three public elementary schools in Indiana — and the second year in a row that the Switzerland County School Corporation had one of those three.

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In the press release from the U.S. Department of Education announcing the honor, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said that schools were selected based on three criteria:

— Schools with at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds that dramatically improve student performance on state tests, as determined by the state school chief; and

— Schools whose students, regardless of background, achieve in the top 10 percent on state tests.

— Private schools that achieve in the top 10 percent in the nation.

“Under No Child Left Behind, schools must meet ‘Adequate Yearly Progress,’ or AYP, in reading/language arts and mathematics,” Secretary Paige said. “Each state sets its own academic standards and benchmark goals — not the federal government — because each state knows best what goals and criteria are most appropriate for its school districts.”

“The achievement gap is closing and that is great news for every student,” Secretary Spellings said in the official press release. “These Blue Ribbon Schools are an example of what teachers and students can achieve. for the first time, we are insisting on results and accountability in return for our federal investment in education. In the three-plus years since ‘No Child Left Behind’ was signed into law, we’ve learned a new equation: ‘Accountability plus high expectations plus resources equals results.”

On a more somber note, the official press release also related that seven of the schools being honored this year with Blue Ribbons were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina and are currently not operating. That list includes four schools in Louisiana — including three in New Orleans; and three schools in Mississippi.

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Dr. Jones said that Christine Cohn, a regional representative from the U.S. Department of Education will come to the school to officially present the Blue Ribbon award sometime in October; and that Dr. Eileen Block from the Indiana Department of Education will also be coming.

The official presentation in Washington, D.C. will take place the week of November 7th, and will include three days of meetings, ceremonies, and the presentation. Dr. Jones will attend, along with Candis Haskell, former principal at SCES who is now the middle school principal.

Also attending will be a teacher from Switzerland County Elementary School. Dr. Jones said that she has asked all of the teachers who have been at the school at least five years who would like to go to Washington to let her know, and she will select the teacher by simply drawing a name out of a hat.

Physical education teacher Fred Ross will be coordinating a series of monthly celebrations for the students at the school as a part of the award.

— Pat Lanman