By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published October 2, 2014
ROSWELL—The last day of September ushered in good news for three schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
The U.S. Department of Education announced Sept. 30 that archdiocesan Catholic schools Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell and St. Jude the Apostle School in Atlanta, along with independent Catholic school, Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, have earned the designation of National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.
Blessed Trinity is the first archdiocesan high school to earn the Blue Ribbon title. Pinecrest Academy received the award for its entire pre-kindergarten through 12th grade program.
St. Jude, a kindergarten through eighth-grade school previously honored in 2003, received the Blue Ribbon designation for the second time.
Diane Starkovich, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools, visited Blessed Trinity that morning to make the surprise announcement.
Students had gathered for an assembly on wise use of social media. At the conclusion, the principal, Frank Moore, told the students and teachers, “It turned out there were two things happening today.”
Moore brought Starkovich to the front of the gym and asked for a drumroll from the band’s percussionists.
Starkovich explained that winning schools of the prestigious award were to be announced shortly by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Washington, D.C.
“Alphabetical order helps, as Blessed Trinity will be one of the first to be recognized this afternoon,” said Starkovich. Students and teachers clapped and cheered loudly.
“This award doesn’t belong to one individual,” she said, adding that the entire Blessed Trinity community receives the award, including its administrators, teachers and “stellar” performing students.
The Blue Ribbon Schools program, established in 1982, honors both public and private schools meeting strict criteria to measure continuing academic excellence.
The criteria for non-public schools requires that the achievement of the school’s students in the most recent year tested places it in the top 15 percent in the nation. In Blessed Trinity’s case, the measure was seniors’ scores on the ACT. Schools can also be honored if they demonstrate they’ve been able to close achievement gaps in segments of the student population and help students across the board achieve success.
Public schools are nominated by their state’s top educator. In the case of private schools, the Council for American Private Education initially reviews applications and provides the Department of Education with a select group for consideration.
This year, 50 private schools and 287 public schools in the nation were named Blue Ribbon Schools.
Schools can reapply for the Blue Ribbon title every 10 years, as did St. Jude the Apostle.
“This second award validates ongoing efforts to maintain the highest of academic standards and student achievement,” said Starkovich about St. Jude.
It was Pinecrest Academy’s first time to receive the nod, and it is for their entire school configuration.
“The community should be very proud for the recognition of outstanding academic achievement for both its elementary and high school programs,” said Starkovich about Pinecrest.
In Georgia, a total of 12 schools—four private and eight public schools—were named Blue Ribbon awardees for 2014.
Blessed Trinity was the only high school in Georgia given the designation. Pinecrest was the only pre-K-12 school in the state honored.
“National Blue Ribbon Schools are models of consistent excellence and a resource for other schools and districts. We celebrate them for their tireless effort and boundless creativity in reaching and teaching every student,” said Secretary Duncan.
It was a year ago that Moore and a committee of 16 others, including teachers, administrators and guidance counselors, began the application process for Blessed Trinity. In January, they learned the application was moving forward. In June, the school received notification of clearing a second hurdle. Final word of the honor came just days ago but was embargoed until Sept. 30.
Moore told the student body that he had done a good deal of research on past winners nationwide. “Last year, one Catholic high school was named,” he said.
Students had a chance to celebrate at lunchtime when two sheet cakes and large chocolate chip cookies spelling out “BT Titans” were served.
By the time the news was made official, a banner had been placed above the school’s front door, and blue ribbons adorned the trees along the school’s driveway.
“It’s been 15 years … a culmination of hard work,” said Moore in recalling the school’s history since it admitted its first freshmen and sophomore classes in 2000. In that time, he added, Blessed Trinity has gone “from nothing to Blue Ribbon status.”
An email blast went out to the school’s parents around 1 p.m. The principal said he finds the award to be validation of what the school community accomplishes.
“We already know what we do,” he said. “Our program is not for the faint of heart.”
The Department of Education will honor the Blue Ribbon Schools at a ceremony in November and Moore and assistant principal Susan Dorner will make the trip to Washington, D.C., for the program.
Starkovich said that Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is proud of the winning schools and often says the schools in Atlanta are “the strongest schools with which he’s been associated.”
Previously, 12 of 18 archdiocesan schools and one of seven local independent Catholic schools here, Holy Spirit Prep School’s Lower School, have received the designation.
“There are more Blue Ribbons to come,” noted Starkovich.
Blessed Trinity seniors Bailey Grady and MaryBeth Wagner have attended the high school since their freshman year.
“The thing that I love the most is that we feel like a big family here,” said Wagner, the head athletic training student. “We all support each other.”
Grady, a defensive end on the football team, agreed with his classmate’s assessment.
“We have a house system here. We get to know underclassmen,” he explained.
Each family within a house has some 24 members from each class and meets regularly.
These seniors say their courses are academically challenging with current course loads including British literature, AP calculus, physics, government and apologetics. Both are also involved in clubs and service projects.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s preparing me,” said Grady of his future.
Teachers are readily available, even committing to weekend study sessions prior to tests.
“They’re here for our advantage,” said Wagner.
As school ambassadors, they enjoy telling others about Blessed Trinity. “We are a Catholic school first … above everything else,” said Wagner.
Its four guiding columns or pillars are: integrating spiritual formation, academic excellence, artistic sensibility, and athletic achievement, said Grady.
Starkovich, decked out in traditional blue for the occasion, used the day to talk about the fruits of a Catholic education.
“The Catholic education you give your children is a gift,” she said.
Associate superintendent Connie Urbanski, whose daughter is a senior at Blessed Trinity, was also on hand for the announcement. The family just moved to Atlanta, and Urbanski said the school has made the transition “very, very smooth for us.”
Blessed Trinity is accredited by AdvancED as part of the system accreditation of all archdiocesan Catholic schools and is a member of the National Catholic Educational Association, the College Board, the Georgia Independent School Association, and the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools.
There are 976 students enrolled at Blessed Trinity High School.
They are “absolutely Blue Ribbon students,” said Starkovich.
All together it was day of affirmation for Atlanta’s Catholic schools.
“I extend my warmest congratulations to all three of our Catholic schools that were honored today,” said Starkovich.
A list of the 50 non-public schools named 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence is available here.