By Mike Lang
Christ the Teacher School in Glasgow, one of the diocese’s newest elementary schools and among its largest, has been named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, which planned to announce the honorees today. The school is the fourth Catholic school in the diocese to receive that distinction and the first since 2000-01.
Christ the Teacher is one of 314 schools from across the country to receive the honor this year, and one of only 50 nonpublic schools named.
The principal, Mercy Sister LaVerne King, and advancement director Colleen Naccarato, who prepared the Blue Ribbon application, will receive a plaque and a flag to fly outside the school at a ceremony this November.
Last year was the first Christ the Teacher was eligible to apply. A school must be in its current configuration for at least five years before it can compete for Blue Ribbon designation. Christ the Teacher opened in September 2002 with kindergarten through sixth grade; a pre-k program, seventh and eighth grades were phased in. This year’s eighth-graders are the first to attend just one elementary school.
The Blue Ribbon Schools program, which began in 1982-83, recognizes elementary, middle and high schools that are rated academically superior or have demonstrated continued, “dramatic” gains in student achievement.
According to the Council on American Private Education, which determines what private schools’ applications are submitted to the federal Department of Education, “high-performing” schools are those that are in the top 10 percent in their state as measured by state tests in both reading and math or that score in the top 10 percent on assessments compared to national norms in at least the highest grade tested in the last year tested. (That will change beginning this year to include every grade tested.)
The other Blue Ribbon schools in the diocese are Corpus Christi (1989-90, 2000-01), Padua Academy (1994-95, 1995-96) and St. Matthew’s (1991-92).
Sister LaVerne said Christ the Teacher was recognized for its excellence in leadership, teaching, student achievement, curriculum, parental involvement and community support. She said the decision to apply for the Blue Ribbon designation was made as soon as the school had finished with its Middle States accreditation.
“This was the next logical step. The faculty agreed, and we dove in,” said Sister LaVerne, the only principal in the school’s history.
“It really was a very positive experience. We began to share with the students that we were going to try to achieve this. It was a lot of work, no doubt about it, but it was not difficult to do,” she said.
Naccarato, who was a computer and technology teacher at the school from 2004-06 and now works part-time for Christ the Teacher, spearheaded the application process. She said she appreciated the opportunity to “see the bigger picture” at the school, being able to observe all classes and grade levels as she prepared the materials needed.
After completing the initial application, Christ the Teacher had to prepare a self-evaluation that assessed its strengths and weaknesses, and the school had to outline its plans for improvement. Sister LaVerne said the school had to single out one area of its curriculum to highlight, and the science program, which includes an indoor laboratory and wetlands on the campus, was selected.
The award is much deserved, said Trish Johnson, president of the school’s Home and School Association. Her daughter Julianna is in third grade, and daughter Emma will start kindergarten next year.
“It’s an excellent education, excellent community. It’s like one big family,” Johnson said. “We’ve never had any problems. Very community involved, they try to do a lot of service for the community.”
Naccarato also is impressed with the school’s emphasis on service.
“It’s a very service-oriented school, which is so great for the kids to have built into the curriculum. A lot of our kids are from really fortunate backgrounds, but it’s important for them to see that not everyone has it as good as they do,” she said.
The school, which has 630 students, will celebrate its Blue Ribbon status throughout the year. Sister LaVerne said some events are certain, others still in the idea stage.
“We’re kicking off an art contest for a Blue Ribbon t-shirt. That will be their t-shirt for a dress down day. We’ve ordered wristbands for all of the students,” she said. “We’re hoping to gather them together on Sept. 9.”
A presentation for the school, tentatively set for early December at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, is also being planned with both Bishop Malooly and Superintendent of Schools Cathy Weaver in attendance.