One local school was recently held out as a national example with two other Alaska schools as the recipient of the National Blue Ribbon School award.
Homer Middle School joined Pioneer Peak Elementary School in Palmer and Stellar Secondary School in Anchorage in the honor announced last month. This is the second time Stellar Secondary has been named a Blue Ribbon School.
In all, 10 schools from within the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have received the distinction, according to a press release from the district.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos awarded about 350 schools nationwide with the 2018 blue ribbon honors.
Homer Middle School Principal Kari Dendurent said the award is a reflection of the caliber of schools all over the Homer community.
“All of the schools in Homer are just really, really, really top-notch schools,” she said. “It’s the Homer community, is the reason why we received it.”
The U.S. Department of Education has honored public and non-public elementary, middle and high schools with the distinction since 1982. The main purpose of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program is to recognize “schools whose students achieve at very high levels or … schools making significant progress in closing achievement gaps among difference groups of students,” according the program’s eligibility criteria.
Dendurent said she hadn’t specifically been trying to win the award, but that the school had implemented a foreign language program, and that’s what put Homer Middle over the top to win. The program requires schools with students in seventh grade or higher to have a foreign language program. Two staff members at Homer Middle are fluent in Japanese, another teacher can provide either Spanish or French, and a third is able to teach French.
“The piece that I like the most is … it wasn’t like we applied,” Dendurent said. “It wasn’t like we put ourselves out there. … The fact that we were selected by the state of Alaska based on criteria put forth by the Department of Education…”
That criteria includes much more than having a foreign language offered to students. The program also looks at test scores to determine if students are high-performing, demographics, school leadership, the school climate and culture, and how well the school engages families in the community, to name a few.
The application also looks at the number of languages other than English represented by the students in the school (in Homer Middle’s case, Russian and Chinese) and the percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
When it comes to high performance, Dendurent said the application uses state test scores to evaluate. The school must be high-performing for two years in a row to be eligible.
“I don’t think you really grasp what it means to be a National Blue Ribbon School until you get it,” she said.