U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan honored 340 schools, including Fennimore Elementary, with the 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools award at a luncheon at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Nov. 11.
Fennimore Elementary School earned National Blue Ribbon School recognition for the first time. The school was one of eight Wisconsin schools nominated for the honor by State Superintendent Tony Evers in February.
Accepting the honor of behalf of Fennimore Elementary School was Principal Carmen Burkum and Fennimore Community Schools District Administrator Jamie Nutter. Both had the opportunity to network with educators from across the nation.
“One of the biggest things I learned from all these high achieving schools and closing gaps schools is the one question to ask, ‘Are kids learning because of our school system or in spite of our school system,’” Nutter said. “If you are coming from an affluent area with lots of activities outside of school, the kids will have a lot of knowledge, but if not, those opportunities might be limited.
“Our goal is to say we are from Fennimore and we are going to provide opportunities for our kids. You get these opportunities and life without a stop light, where everyone knows everybody and you feel safe. You get the best of both worlds.”
A sizable portion of the National Blue Ribbon Schools itinerary was dedicated to roundtable discussions.
“For a day they split us up and we sat with people from all over,” Nutter said. “I sat with people from New York, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and all over.
“We learned what they are doing in their math programs, technology, whatever. It is good because we learned from them, but they were taking notes while we were speaking too.”
Attendees also had the opportunity to learn from multiple guest speakers.
“We heard some great speakers who talked to us about how important it is, for example, to be positive,” Burkum said. “It is so much easier for students, adults or anyone to learn in a positive environment rather than a negative environment.
“We need to do the best we can to make life inside the walls as positive and affirming as we can to help them be able to learn.”
The Blue Ribbon Schools award recognizes public and private schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. These schools demonstrate that all students can achieve at high levels. The schools – 290 public and 50 private - are among nearly 7,900 schools that have received the coveted award over the past 32 years.
“These great schools are fulfilling the promise of American education - that all students, no matter their zip code, can flourish when schools provide safe, creative, and challenging learning environments,” Secretary Duncan said. “National Blue Ribbon Schools are models of consistent excellence and a resource for other schools and districts. We celebrate them for their tireless effort and boundless creativity in reaching and teaching every student.”
All National Blue Ribbon schools are recognized in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates:
• Exemplary High Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. Student subgroup performance and high school graduation rates are also at the highest levels.
• Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s subgroups and all students over the past five years. Student subgroup performance and high school graduation rates for each subgroup are at high levels.
In the wake of the school district’s unprecedented success, do not expect school district staff to rest on their laurels.
“There is still more to come for us,” Nutter said. “As long as we continue with these best practices, our students are going to have more areas of growth where they can reach. When we get to that level it will be even more exciting than it is now.”
“One of the things we learned is this award showed we really are doing something good, but that does not mean this is where we stop,” she said. “This is where we are right now, but what can we do to keep moving forward? We are not at a pinnacle where we stop. There is still more to do.”
A full list of the 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools is available at http://www.ed.gov/nationalblueribbonschools.
The U.S. Department of Education contributed to this report.