September 30, 2005

Five archdiocesan schools named
Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence

By Brandon A. Evans

Five archdiocesan schools have been named No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Depart-ment of Education.

The new Blue Ribbon schools are Holy Family School in New Albany, St. Michael School in Greenfield, and Immaculate Heart of Mary School, St. Simon the Apostle School and St. Thomas Aquinas School, all in Indianapolis.

Across the nation, 245 public schools and 50 private schools were honored this year. With 11 schools honored in the state of Indiana, the archdiocese operates nearly half of the Blue Ribbon schools.

The recent honors also bring the total number of Catholic schools in the archdiocese to be honored by the U.S. Depart-ment of Education to 20 since 1982. Last year, the archdiocese had six Blue Ribbon schools, and four the year before that.

To date, no other diocese in the United States has had as many Blue Ribbon schools as the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

“I’m just thrilled to death,” said Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

She was the principal of St. Mark the Evangelist School in Indianapolis in 1985 when it was named a Blue Ribbon school.

“There is, in my opinion, no higher accomplishment,” Lentz said. “It’s an awesome feeling.”

More than just a marketing tool or an award for a principal, being named a Blue Ribbon school is a recognition of the community—parents, teachers, students and parish—that work to create an excellent Catholic school, she said.

And so many Blue Ribbon awards is a good reflection on the archdiocese as a whole, she added.

“I think it says that we’re continuing to improve what we’re doing,” Lentz said. “We’re continuing to know that the best even need to get better and that we need to get our students skilled in every area for whatever career or ministry they’re going to serve.”

To apply for the award, a Catholic school must first be nominated by the Council for American Private Education.

Then, the school must either have a significant number of students scoring in the top 10 percent of its state’s achievement tests or at least 40 percent of its students from disadvantaged backgrounds and making dramatic academic improvements.

The review process examines several years of the school’s past academic achievements to verify that continuous progress is being made.

But those are the minimum steps—the school must then show how it is set apart from other schools—the application is about 20 pages long and takes quite an effort to finish.

Those schools who applied had to do so by the end of last year—and wait until just last week to hear the results.

It was quite a relief to know the school was receiving the award, said Gerald Ernstberger, principal of Holy Family School.

He was principal of the school in 2000 when it was honored as a Blue Ribbon school under the old program which was reworked during the first term of President George W. Bush.

The schools knew that the awards would be announced at the end of September—at the time when the press release was made public by the Department of Education, Ernstberger was on playground duty and got a call from his wife to see if he had checked on it.

A general announcement was made to the school, and a celebration is planned for the near future.

He credited all those involved with the school for the honor—especially the faculty and parents’ association.

“It takes a lot of components to reach these levels of success,” Ernstberger said. “We just have a wonderful community here at Holy Family.”

Kathleen Wright, principal of St. Simon the Apostle School, said that they are blessed with masterful teachers, involved parents, good students and a supportive faith community in the parish.

“This isn’t a ‘me thing,’ ” Wright said. “This is a full community endeavor.”

Among the many programs that the school in involved with, she mentioned the foreign language program in the middle school and the emphasis on service learning as part of Catholic identity.

As soon as the news came, two teachers ran out to get balloons and flowers. At the end of the day, a representative from each class shared the good news and the students cheered their teachers.

“The kids were so excited,” Wright said.

This honor, she said, is something that will be with the school as long it exists.

Teresa Slipher, principal of St. Michael School, said that the school had an assembly when they got the news last Friday.

“[The faculty and students] were thrilled—on cloud nine,” she said. “It’s a reward for everyone.”

Like the other principals, she will be in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10-11 with one teacher to receive the official recognition of being a Blue Ribbon school with a plaque and flag.

To Slipher, the honor is another proof that the hard work of the students and staff is paying off.

Bonnie Stevens, principal of St. Thomas Aquinas School, made an announcement about the award to the parents who gathered in the schoolyard to pick up their children at the end of the day.

“We just have a very strong sense of community here,” she said.

Each student is paired with either a younger or older student who is their prayer partner, and the faculty also pair up.

“I just think we’re a unique school because we work very hard to value every student in the school,” Stevens said.

The school will plan on another celebration in time—likely to coincide with a visit that each school receives from a Department of Education official.

Annette Jones, principal of Immaculate Heart of Mary School, is planning a similar assembly.

Last Friday, she had a meeting with all the students and gave blue carnations to each of the teachers.

She said that her school has a strong Catholic identity and a dedicated set of teachers.

“I just believe this is a tribute to all the hard work and dedication of our school,” Jones said.

With all the benefits of that hard work, this is “icing on the cake,” she said.

“We will continue our hard work,” Jones said, “and continue our work with students as we always have.” †


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