Ellen Smith Elementary School Principal DeLanna Lacy said the school being named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education is acknowledgment of hard work by teachers, students and parents in the Conway School District.
“We went through a very rigorous process,” Lacy said. “It is very intense; it involves the entire faculty. It was almost a year-long process.”
The school was one of only four elementary schools out of 286 schools to receive the designation.
Nominated schools must have at least 40 percent free and reduced-price lunches. When Ellen Smith applied for the designation last year, the school had 43 percent.
Ellen Smith Elementary School was nominated by former state Rep. Linda Tyler of Conway.
“I was thrilled,” Tyler said about the selection. “I have been a fan of Ellen Smith Elementary School for a long time. First, it’s in my district.”
Tyler said that when legislators received reports from the state Department of Education, discussions were held that schools with high percentages of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches didn’t have success on the Benchmark exams.
“Ellen Smith was always one of those schools that showed them it could be done,” Tyler said.
“I’ve just always taken pride in that, … and every time I run into an Ellen Smith kid, I say, ‘You know, you have the best school in Arkansas.’”
The annual honor is bestowed on schools based on either overall academic excellence or on the progress shown in improving academic achievement, according to a press release from the Education Department.
Schools in the first category, Exemplary High Performing, are among the highest-performing schools in a state as measured by state exams or nationally normed tests.
Schools in the second category, Exemplary Improving, are those in which at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds demonstrate the most progress in improving achievement on state tests or nationally normed tests.
Ellen Smith was chosen as an Exemplary High Performing School.
Even if the school hadn’t been chosen as a Blue Ribbon School, Lacy said, the application process was “very helpful.”
“Any process you go through and you reflect, evaluate, research … what you’re doing every day — when you take that to a deeper level, you learn from it,” Lacy said. “We always think, ‘What can we do better?’”
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made formal announcements of the Blue Ribbon Schools on Sept. 24, “and we just shouted and hollered, our teachers and students, because it’s such an acknowledgment of their hard work, of our parents’ hard work.”
“This is not just Ellen Smith; this is the Conway School District, the community of Conway,” Lacy said.
Conway Superintendent Greg Murry said, “I am proud of the great work of our teachers and administrators at Ellen Smith. This Blue Ribbon is a testimony to an outstanding group of faculty and staff who work hand in hand with parents for academic excellence. That excellence has become the standard.”
Lacy said Mark Lewis, principal of Jim Stone Elementary School, was helpful in the process. Jim Stone Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon School in 2011.
A ceremony to honor the Blue Ribbon Schools will be held Nov. 18-19 in Washington, D.C.
Lacy said she will attend the ceremony, along with Shonda Smith, gifted-and-talented teacher and chairwoman of the school’s Blue Ribbon Committee, and Judy Greer, assistant principal at Ellen Smith.
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said in a prepared statement about the public-school awards that the schools “serve as statewide models of success.”
The Blue Ribbon Award program was established in 1982.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.