Eleven local schools just received a feather in the cap from the United States Department of Education by being named Monday to the 2018 list of National Blue Ribbon winners.
From Philadelphia to Lansdale, schools were highlighted for their excellence — either by virtue of their academic achievements, or their success in narrowing achievement gaps. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the winners Monday.
The winners are Albert M. Greenfield Elementary and William M. Meredith Elementary, Philadelphia; Ancillae-Assumpta Academy, Wyncote; Mater Dei Catholic School, Lansdale; Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School, Maple Glen; Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School, Doylestown; Saint Joseph/Saint Robert Catholic School, Warrington; Saint Jude Catholic School, Chalfont; Saint Katharine Drexel Catholic School, Southampton; Saint Mary Magdalen Catholic School, Media; and Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School, West Chester.
"We recognize and honor your important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives," DeVos told the honorees in a video message. "Congratulations on your students' accomplishments and for your extraordinary commitment to meeting their unique needs."
The winners are among 349 — private and public, traditional schools and charters — to receive the annual honor. Representatives from each will travel to Washington in November for an award ceremony.
Nine local winners are local Catholic schools; two on the list come from the Philadelphia School District — Greenfield, in Center City, and Meredith, in Queen Village, both K-8s.
No schools in Camden, Burlington or Gloucester Counties made the list.
Dan Lazar became Greenfield's principal 10 years ago.
"When I started, I dreamed that one day, we would be one of those school that won a Blue Ribbon," he said. "It felt like a pipe dream."
Greenfield — and the school district — have lived through multiple superintendents, faculty turnover, and a financial crisis so acute that the school system almost ran out of money more than once and supplies were hard to come by. But during that decade, Greenfield has grown by 200 students, and become more of a neighborhood school.
"This just tells us that through all the uncertainty, with all this craziness, we've managed to build something very special," said Lazar. "This is a recognition that, 'Hey, we've built something that people want. People used to leave the city when their kids were school age, and now they're staying.'"
Lauren Overton, Meredith's principal, knew when she took over the school three years ago that it was already strong. But it is a community that prides itself on moving forward, and the Blue Ribbon feels like a recognition of that, Overton said.
The school, for example, now has a "social health class" for middle-grades students that focuses on topics as diverse as race and gender to the proper amount of sleep and cell phone use. Meredith was already using a "workshop model" for literacy, with teachers providing a short lesson, then students using most of the period for independent work. Now, it's moved to a workshop model for math.
"We pay attention to the needs of students; the world has changed, and we have to help our kids navigate it," Overton said.
Meredith, like many schools, planned to announce the news to students in grand style. Overton's mother handmade 650 blue ribbons to hand out to students.
A familiar name on the list is Ancillae-Assumpta Academy, a private school in Wyncote. It is, according to school leaders, the only elementary school in Pennsylvania to land on the list for the fourth time. (Ancillae-Assumpta previously won in 1986, 1991 and 2010.)
Ancillae-Assumpta director Amy Lintner said the school is able to focus on "innovative teaching and learning practices and flexible environments that really inspire our students."
The school provides robust instruction, Lintner said, in areas from fine arts to service learning to STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And, as the only school in the U.S. run by the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it also has relationships with the other schools run by the order around the world.