Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Students in the gymnasium at St. Joseph School, Marietta, break into an enthusiastic show of blue at the announcement of their second National Blue Ribbon honor. The school was also honored in 2003.


2 schools—St. Thomas More and St. Joseph—earn Blue Ribbon status again

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published October 6, 2016

ATLANTA—It’s all things blue for archdiocesan elementary schools St. Joseph in Marietta and St. Thomas More in Decatur.

On Sept. 28, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. named both schools as 2016 National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.

Each serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the Catholic schools are among 279 public and 50 private schools nationally to receive the honor.

In a video message, King praised the winners.

“As a former social studies teacher and a school administrator, I understand the tough choices you have to make. It takes courage to do the right thing for children, even in the face of significant obstacles. All of you—students, teachers and administrators—deserve our highest praise,” he said. “You are shining examples for your communities, your state, and the nation.”

Schools may apply for Blue Ribbon status as “exemplary high performing”—among the top schools in a state—or “exemplary achievement gap closing”—schools making the fastest progress in their state in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

St. Joseph and St. Thomas More were selected as exemplary high performing schools. It is the second Blue Ribbon award for both schools. St. Joseph earned the honor in 2003 and St. Thomas More in 1988.

Jerry Raymond, principal of St. Thomas More School, Decatur, makes the Blue Ribbon announcement to the students and faculty of the Decatur school Sept. 28. They previously earned this honor in 1988.

Jerry Raymond, principal of St. Thomas More School, Decatur, makes the Blue Ribbon announcement to the students and faculty of the Decatur school Sept. 28. They previously earned this honor in 1988.

The Council for American Private Education nominates non-public schools, including parochial and independent schools for the Blue Ribbon award. To be eligible to be nominated, the school must have scored in the top 15 percent on a national assessment test.

For archdiocesan schools, student performances on the Iowa Assessments qualified them to apply for the Blue Ribbon designation. The Iowa tests cover math, science, language arts and social studies.

“That was the first hurdle,” said Jerry Raymond, principal of St. Thomas More School. “Then you apply. It’s a 28-page application.”

Raymond, and then assistant vice-principal Kellie DesOrmeaux, divided the application, which includes essays on subjects ranging from governance of the school, leadership and strength of curriculum to community involvement and professional development.

“We started putting together our answers,” said Raymond.

St. Thomas More officially submitted its application in October 2015.

Save the date

Raymond, in his fifth year as principal, received word the application was under consideration in January. At the beginning of the 2016 school year, he received an email suggesting he plan to book accommodations Nov. 6 and 7 in Washington D.C.—the dates of the official recognition ceremony.

Dr. Diane Starkovich, superintendent of Catholic schools, told Raymond, “That’s a good sign.”

A few weeks ago, Raymond received confirmation of the award and planned a surprise announcement for students and staff on Sept. 28.

“I wanted to keep it a secret,” he said. “This past Wednesday at 1 p.m., the Secretary of Education made the announcement and we had a rally planned for 1:45 p.m.”

Students at St. Thomas More School, Decatur, prepare for the announcement Sept. 28 that their school has been named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence for the second time.

Students at St. Thomas More School, Decatur, prepare for the announcement Sept. 28 that their school has been named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence for the second time.

The school band played, the gym was decorated with blue balloons and students waved blue crepe paper streamers at the news. Rebecca Hammel, associate superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, was on hand to congratulate the staff and students. Raymond also invited DesOrmeaux, who is the new principal of Immaculate Heart of Mary School, to come back for the rally. Retired pastor Msgr. Paul Fogarty was a special guest.

“This truly is the most prestigious award,” Raymond emphasized to the community.

The Blue Ribbon recognizes the professionalism of the staff.

“This is proof. It validates the hard work of our teachers, staff and our students,” he said.

The filter they continually use at St. Thomas More, said Raymond, is how and what will positively impact the children.

“We don’t do things to get awards,” he said.

Raymond added that the Blue Ribbon award is a strong affirmation, particularly the second time around. The celebration continues at the Decatur school.

“We’re having Blue Day tomorrow. We’re going to serve cupcakes,” he said Oct. 3.

Raymond and Jesuit Father Mark Horak, pastor of St. Thomas More Church, will represent the school at the awards ceremony in Washington.

Marietta school founded in 1953

At St. Joseph School in Marietta, students and teachers were also celebrating the distinction. Parent volunteers decorated the front of the school, students shook blue pompons and wore foam hands that read “We’re #1.”

Dr. Patricia Allen, principal, congratulated staff and students. She was joined by Msgr. John Walsh, pastor of St. Joseph Church, and Dr. Connie Urbanski, assistant superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.

“I am very proud that St. Joseph Catholic School is being recognized again as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence,” said Allen. “Everyone in our school community works toward one common goal—providing the best education for our students, both academically and in our Catholic faith. We are a phenomenal school community.”

In her 13th year as principal, Allen’s relationship with St. Joseph School began as a school parent when her two children were students there. She later joined the staff and has been principal since June 2004.

“It is a tremendous school filled with a great community,” she said in an email Oct. 4. “The students come to school each day happy and ready to learn. The parents volunteer their time to help the school each day. The faculty and staff continually strive to improve their practices in order to give the best to the students each day.”

“This prestigious award confirms the dedication and hard work of the school community. I am always very proud to be the principal of this amazing school,” she said.

Founded in 1953, St. Joseph School has a more than 60-year history as a parish school. The school is a vital part of the parish community, under the leadership of Msgr. Walsh.

He said, “I have the pleasure of watching these children grow in their faith and excel in their academics. I am always amazed to see how well the children perform in school and how well they treat one another each day at school. They are excellent representatives of the school and the parish.”

Allen and Msgr. Walsh plan to attend the awards ceremony in November.

Thirty-seven of the 50 private schools named as Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence for 2016 are Catholic schools, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

Local Catholic schools recognized before

In addition to the recognition the school receives, principals and teacher leaders from Blue Ribbon Schools are called upon to give presentations at professional meetings about best practices. Educators visit the schools to learn about promising leadership and instructional strategies and schools are often profiled in Department of Education publications.

Starkovich will also attend the November awards ceremony where each winning school receives a plaque. About 75 percent of the elementary schools in the archdiocese have now received the recognition, the superintendent said.

Christ the King School and St. Jude the Apostle School in Atlanta and St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville have each received the designation twice in the past.

Other Catholic schools honored in previous years as Blue Ribbon Schools include archdiocesan elementary schools Holy Redeemer in Johns Creek; Immaculate Heart of Mary in Atlanta; Our Lady of the Assumption in Atlanta; Our Lady of Victory in Tyrone; Queen of Angels in Roswell; St. Catherine of Siena in Kennesaw; and St. John Neumann Regional in Lilburn. Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell is the first archdiocesan high school to be named a Blue Ribbon School.

Independent Catholic schools that are Blue Ribbon Schools are Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta and Pinecrest Academy in Cumming, which was awarded for its kindergarten through 12th-grade program.

Starkovich said these awards are a source of pride for the communities—the students, teachers and parents. It requires all working together to get to the threshold in the curriculum to keep test scores high.

“This is outside affirmation for the students and parents,” she said. “The award really belongs to the community.”

Although the process is long and involved, it’s worth it, said Starkovich. It’s like the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” she said.

The Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence reports for both archdiocesan winners are available at