By Nichole Golden, Staff Reporter | Published September 26, 2013
KENNESAW—St. Catherine of Siena School in Kennesaw is the thirteenth school in the Archdiocese of Atlanta to earn the title of a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
Students and teachers learned the news Sept. 24 during an end-of-school day gathering in the school’s gymnasium. Dominican Sister Mary Patrick, principal, made the announcement.
“St. Catherine is the only private and only Catholic school in Georgia to be named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence,” said Sister Mary Patrick.
This year’s honorees include 286 schools total nationwide—50 of which are private schools.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools program, founded in 1982, is a program of the U.S. Department of Education. It recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools where the students perform at very high levels or significant improvements are being made in the academic achievements of students.
Diane Starkovich, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools, and Rebecca Hammel, associate superintendent, both attended the St. Catherine celebration.
Starkovich explained that there are two ways a school can qualify for the award: by posting achievement test results in the top 15 percent of the country, or by demonstrating certain levels of achievement in specific populations found in the school.
“St. Catherine qualified by posting achievement results in the top 10 to 15 percent in the country on the Iowa Assessments administered to students in grades 2-8 in the spring of 2012,” said Starkovich. “If a school qualifies, it then submits an application through CAPE (the Council for American Private Education), which selects the 50 best applications from private schools across the country. There are several rounds of review and St. Catherine of Siena passed through every level with no recommendations to clarify its application.”
The process of application began in December 2012, and few at the school knew of its selection until this week.
“We have been keeping it tightly under wraps,” said Sister Mary Patrick.
Adding St. Catherine to the list of Blue Ribbon schools marks 75 percent of the archdiocesan grade schools achieving such status.
“The award belongs to the entire community—beginning with the support of the pastor, the implementation of our archdiocesan curriculum by the administration and the staff of the school, the hard work of the students and, of course, the trust and support the school receives from the parents and guardians of these wonderful students,” said Starkovich. “St. Catherine of Siena is our ‘youngest school’ so receiving this award so quickly speaks to the strong faith formation and the outstanding academics offered at the school. I would like to congratulate the entire school community and let everyone know how very proud and how very happy we are.”
In addition to her congratulatory words, Starkovich also extended the same to the students on “behalf of Archbishop Gregory” by telling them that Thursday would be a dress down day where they could wear something blue instead of their usually required uniforms.
St. Catherine has more than 430 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. They entered the gym to the sounds of the song “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang, their first hint of a special occasion.
The front of the school was decorated with blue star-shaped and polka-dot balloons, a bakery cake with the Blue Ribbon logo was to be served, and parents and students enjoyed blue-frosted cookies during carpool pick-up time.
The school opened in the fall of 2002 at the parish of St. Catherine of Siena, initially offering only grades kindergarten through third, using existing facilities. An additional grade was added each subsequent year and a new school building was constructed.
In 2004, Archbishop John F. Donoghue contacted the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia to request they begin teaching at the school. That fall, three sisters arrived from the motherhouse in Nashville, Tenn., to begin their new work.
Fifth-grade teacher Kathy Stacy, surprised by the timing of the announcement, was not surprised at the award. Stacy called St. Catherine a “fabulous” school with great administration.
“They support us all the time,” she said.
Seventh-grade student Judy Bosire already recognizes that she is receiving an excellent education and that all the students’ homework and studying for tests has paid off in the form of this award. Bosire said the teachers “spend more one-on-one time” with students and if a student is struggling, they can always get the help needed.
Michelle Huval is Sister Mary Patrick’s administrative assistant, handles admissions, and also has two children attending St. Catherine. Huval has been at the school since the beginning when it had just 76 students.
“A lot of people worked hard to get here,” she said.
In Georgia, there were eight schools selected as 2013 Blue Ribbon Schools. The other schools were all public or charter schools.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made this year’s announcement on the morning of Sept. 24 live and via the department’s USTREAM channel.
“Excellence in education matters and we should honor the schools that are leading the way to prepare students for success in college and careers,” said Duncan. “National Blue Ribbon Schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education.”
The department will honor the Blue Ribbon Schools at a recognition ceremony on Nov. 18-19 in Washington, D.C. In its 31-year history, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed this respected award on nearly 7,500 of America’s schools.
Sister Mary Patrick and another St. Catherine’s staff member will attend the ceremony. She will receive an official plaque and permission to use the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence logo in all school communications.