It was May 31 when Sharon Blentlinger first learned that Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Fort Smith would be named 2013 National Blue Ribbon School. That knowledge also came with an admonition to keep it a secret until Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, made the news official sometime in September.
“It was definitely the hardest secret I’ve ever had to keep,” said Blentlinger, who is the principal at Immaculate Conception School.
Immaculate Conception School is the first elementary school in Fort Smith, public or private, and the first Catholic school in Arkansas to receive the prestigious award. Immaculate Conception has 309 students, including pre-school, Blentlinger said. The school has 22 certified teachers and a total faculty/staff count of 43.
“The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and non-public elementary, middle, and high schools where students achieve at very high levels and/or where the achievement gap in narrowing,” according to the Arkansas Department of Education. “The Program sets a standard of excellence for all schools striving for the highest level of achievement. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program is part of a larger U. S. Department of Education effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about best school leadership and teaching practices.”
The other Arkansas schools named as a 2013 Blue Ribbon School were Bergman Elementary School (Bergman, Ark.), Central Park at Morning Star Elementary (Bentonville Public School District), and Ellen Smith Elementary School (Conway Public School District).
Oklahoma public schools receiving the designation in 2013 were Central High Elementary School (Marlow, Okla.), Tulsa Eisenhower International Elementary School (Tulsa), and Wayland Bonds Elementary School (Oklahoma City).
The four Arkansas public and private schools were among 286 schools – 236 public and 50 private – recognized. Arkansas’ four schools received the “Exemplary High Performing” designation, which means they have reading/English language arts and mathematics test scores that rank among the top 15% in the state. Exemplary Improving Schools, the other possible designation, have at least 40% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have demonstrated significant improvement on state tests.
Blentlinger said this was the first time the school applied for the Blue Ribbon status.
“I’ve been looking at it. I considered it for several years, but there seemed to always be something else to do,” she explained.
In 2011 and 2012 the school completed accreditation and strategic planning work, and also saw its students score well on standardized tests. Blentlinger said all that prep work fed into the decision to apply for a Blue Ribbon award.
“We just finished a year of accreditation. We had that behind us. So I thought we might go ahead and do this now since we were fresh of our accreditation, fresh off our strategic planning. It just seem like the right time, so we got a team together and went for it,” Blentlinger said.
The Immaculate Conception press release noted:
“Immaculate Conception School’s high standardized test scores qualified them to submit a lengthy application to the Council for American Private Education highlighting the school’s operations in areas such as assessments and assessment data, curricula, professional development, leadership and community and family involvement. Once reviewed and approved, CAPE recommended Immaculate Conception School to the U.S. Department of Education. Immaculate Conception School was chosen based on the criteria of schools whose students are high performing and score at the highest level in both reading and mathematics on nationally-normed tests.”
Blentlinger said she send out an e-mail Tuesday morning shortly after the news was official.
“Our school families work hard and sacrifice ... to send their children here and support the school. They do so much. I’m really happy for them,” she said.
The National Award Ceremony for the 2013 winners will be held Nov. 18-19 at the Omi-Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.
BLUE RIBBONS IN ARKANSAS (2012-1982)
Following is a list of Arkansas public and private schools to receive the National Blue Ribbon recognition since the program began in 1982. The list is compiled with information from the U.S. Department of Education and the Arkansas Department of Education.
Forest Park Elementary School
Little Rock Christian Academy
Russell D. Jones Elementary School
Rogers, AR 72758-0000
Bellview Elementary School
Forest Heights Elementary School
Jim Stone Elementary School
Richland Elementary School
Arnold Drive Elementary School
Calico Rock Elementary School
Kingston Elementary School
Salem Elementary School
Mount Pleasant Elementary School
Park International Magnet School
Vandergriff Elementary School
Batesville High School
KIPP Delta College Preparatory School
Williams Jefferson Clinton Elementary Magnet School
Bentonville High School
College Hill Elementary International Studies
Southside High School
Walker Elementary School
Robert E. Lee Elementary School
Old High Middle School
Parson Hills Elementary School
Northside High School
Root Elementary School
Arkadelphia High School
Westwood Elementary School
Louisa E. Perritt Primary School
Thurman G. Smith Elementary School
Conway High School
White Hall High School
Annie Camp Middle School
Douglas MacArthur Middle School
Jonesboro High School