9 local schools win coveted National Blue Ribbon honor

McCall Elementary students celebrate Thursday’s news that the K-8 campus in Center City was among nine local schools receiving the National Blue Ribbon award.

Nine local schools have won 2017 National Blue Ribbon awards from the U.S. Department of Education, officials announced Thursday.

Recognized for high academic achievements or success in narrowing achievement gaps, the local group consists of eight schools in Southeastern Pennsylvania and one from South Jersey. They are: MaST Community Charter School, Philadelphia; McCall Elementary, Philadelphia; Gwynedd-Mercy Academy Elementary, Spring House; Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Schwenksville; Saint Maximilian Kolbe, West Chester; St. Joseph, Downingtown; Saints Simon and Jude, West Chester; West Chester East High School, West Chester; and Eugene A. Tighe Middle School in Margate, N.J.

The schools are among 342 — private and public, traditional schools and charters — to receive the annual honor. Representatives from the winning schools will travel to Washington in November for an award ceremony.

“National Blue Ribbon Schools are active demonstrations of preparing every child for a bright future,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “You are visionaries, innovators and leaders. You have much to teach us: Some of you personalize student learning, others engage parents and communities in the work and life of your local schools, and still others develop strong and forward-thinking leaders from among your teaching staff.”

At McCall, a public school in Center City, principal Stephanie McKenna said the award was a recognition of the hard work of her students, staff, and parents. The school, which educates 700 students in grades K-8, takes in a range of students, from Society Hill to Chinatown. Nearly 20 percent of its students are English-language learners, and it serves homeless shelters.

McCall was named the top-performing K-8 in Philadelphia by the School District last year.

“Our teachers have to be skilled in how to meet the needs of individuals of students,” McKenna said. “It’s a great community — we embrace diversity and look for ways to make things better.”

The school has a very active group of parents and emphasizes science and technology — things that are not givens in many city schools. It also has a number of partnerships with outside organizations, McKenna said.

Mayor Kenney, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., School Reform Commission Chair Joyce Wilkerson, and others surprised teachers and students at the school on South Seventh Street on Thursday with a celebration.

“This is great for the community,” McKenna said.

Cheers went up at Saint Maximilian Kolbe as students at the pre K-8 school realized what their school had accomplished. The news was announced by DeVos via a live web stream.

The school will celebrate Friday with a building-wide party.