West Elementary School Receives Prestigious Blue Ribbon School Recognition

Glenwood's West Elementary School is one of only five schools in Iowa to receive Blue Ribbon School recognition from the U.S. Department of Education.

Glenwood’s West Elementary School has earned a rare and prestigious national honor.

Friday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that West Elementary is among only five schools in the state of Iowa and 297 nationally to be named a Blue Ribbon School in 2022.

In making the announcement, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

The 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. 

Exemplary Achievement Gap-Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students. 

West Elementary was recognized as an Exemplary High-Performing School.

West Elementary School Principal Genie O’Grady said the recognition can be attributed to several years of dedication and hard work by staff, students and parents.

“Two things were key,” O’Grady said. “Teacher Leadership – putting teachers in charge of what teachers do best and figuring out things that were keeping kids from learning. We also studied what’s called MTSS – Multi Tiered System of Support, which really helped us fine tune how we were intervening for all students.

“It has to do with our response to a student that either has needs that are either higher than a grade level or lower than a grade level. So, it’s our response to students not making adequate progress or students that already know what we’re teaching them.”

Along with West Elementary, the other four Iowa schools earning Blue Ribbon School designation are Prairie Trail Elementary School in Ankeny, Mount Ayr Elementary School, Van Meter High School and Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School. The five schools were nominated by the Iowa Department of Education.

O’Grady said she was notified in February that West had been nominated for the honor. Once nominated, schools are required to complete a lengthy and extensive application process.

“A team of teachers spent February and March writing the application (secretly as it had been embargoed),” she said. “We found out Sept. 12 that we had received the award but still could not say anything until it was released by the U.S. Secretary of Education on Sept. 16.”

O’Grady said plans are in the works to hang a Blue Ribbon School banner at a visible place outside the school and to have “something more significant”  placed inside the school to commemorate the award. There will also be some inner-school and public observances to celebrate the achievement.

“This will probably be something we celebrate all year long. It’s that big of a deal.,” O’Grady said. “Parents, teachers and kids have all been involved in the work.”

In November, O’Grady, Glenwood Community School District Superintendent Dr. Devin Embray and a member of the West Elementary staff will travel to Washington, D.C., to formally accept the Blue Ribbon School Award from the Department of Education.

The Blue Ribbon School program was established in 1982. Since its inception, 1 percent of schools nationally (public and private) have earned  Blue Ribbon School status.

“I applaud all the honorees for the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award for creating vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school communities where students can learn, grow, reach their potential, and achieve their dreams,” Secretary Cardona said. “As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will only be as strong as the education we provide to all of our children. Blue Ribbon Schools have gone above and beyond to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs. These schools show what is possible to make an enduring, positive difference in students’ lives.”

The Opinion-Tribune

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