Springhill Elementary School in the Bryant School District and Emerson Elementary School in the Emerson-Taylor-Bradley School District are the state’s latest Blue Ribbon Schools as announced Friday by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
The two Arkansas schools are among 297 schools nationally to receive the honor, which is based on either a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
“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,” said Cardona in a statement.
“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,” he said. “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.” E m e rs o n E l e m e n ta r y, designated as an exemplary high-performing school in the Blue Ribbon program, is one of three elementary schools in the far-flung Emerson-Taylor-Bradley district in rural, timber-rich southwest Arkansas.
The 170-pupil school received state-issued “A” letter grades in 2018 and 2019, the last two times the grades were issued under the direction of seven-year Principal Jennifer Kyle.
The campus serves kindergarten through sixth grade students. Fifty-two percent of students were eligible for free- and reduced-rate school meals as determined by family income. Sixteen percent received special education services.
“The one practice that is the most influential in making Emerson Elementary a successful school is nurture,” the school’s application for the Blue Ribbon Award states.
“Beginning with the basic needs, Emerson assesses every student and fulfills the needs that are not being met at home,” the application states.
That is done in part by sending backpacks of easily prepared food home for students each weekend and holiday period, providing winter coats for those who need them and even providing a place on campus to students who appear to need sleep.
“Teachers and staff take time to build relationships with the students,” the application states. “Knowing that relationships help students to do their best work at school is essential in making them successful; therefore, students trust, at least, one individual on campus and feel comfortable to talk with that person if necessary.
“It is a top priority to make students feel loved while at school,” according to the application.
Springhill Elementary School in the Bryant district, with a much larger enrollment of 524 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, is also recognized as an exemplary high-performing school.
Russell Sherrill has been the principal for 11 years at the school in which 28% of students are from low-income families, 6% are not native English-speakers and 15% receive special education services.
“We have created a culture and a climate where student leadership is celebrated and where students take ownership of their own academic and behavioral success,” according to the school’s description. “As a Leader in Me Lighthouse School, we accomplish our leadership goals by practicing the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” “Where we once focused heavily on academics, we now focus on the whole child. Where we once taught academic content, we now do so while empowering our students to take responsibility for their own learning,” the description states.
The use of professional learning communities is another contributor to school success, the school application for the honor states.
“No one at Springhill Elementary exists in a vacuum! Rather, we meet together, learn from and share ideas with each other, study assessment data together, and discuss the individual needs of students. We no longer shut our doors and do our own thing.” Sherrill, the principal, said he was thankful for the efforts of the faculty and staff, the hard work of students, the support from parents, and the vision and direction received from the district.
“This community of learners is amazing, and I am blessed to be part of it,” he said.
Bryant Superintendent Karen Walters said she was proud of the school’s staff.
“It is so good to see their hard work, dedication and love for the students recognized with a national honor,” Walters said.
More information about the two Arkansas schools is contained in their applications for the National Blue Ribbon awards. Those applications are here: https://bit.ly/2NZhQ8aNational Blue Ribbon Schools — rewarded in part with Blue Ribbon flags to display at their campuses — are meant to be models of effective school practices for others.
The U.S. Education Department invites nominations for the Blue Ribbon from the top education official in all states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education. Up to 420 schools may be nominated each year Private schools are also eligible for recognition and are nominated by the Council for American Private Education.