By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 4, 2018
ATLANTA—Two Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta were designated as 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools.
It was familiar territory for the communities of Holy Redeemer School and Christ the King School. Both schools received the national recognition in the past—it was the second Blue Ribbon honor for Holy Redeemer, Johns Creek, and the third for Christ the King, Atlanta. The award is given by the U.S. Department of Education.
“To be recognized once as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence is a remarkable honor,” said Diane Starkovich, Ph.D., the archdiocesan superintendent of schools. But to be repeat recipients “affirms the rigorous academics and outstanding accomplishments of the students at these schools,” she said.
School representatives, along with Starkovich, will attend a ceremony in November hosted by the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., for the honor.
“The Archdiocese of Atlanta Catholic Schools will be well-represented during this celebration of excellence,” said Starkovich.
The Blue Ribbon Schools program, established in 1982, honors public and private schools measuring continuing academic excellence or dramatic improvements in student accomplishments at high levels.
In the case of private schools, as a minimum, they must consistently rank in the top 10 percent of the nation on nationally standardized tests.
The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) initially reviews the applications submitted by private schools. CAPE then provides the Department of Education with schools whose applications are found worthy of consideration, which are then invited by the Secretary of Education to submit an application for possible recognition as a Blue Ribbon School.
Five private elementary schools in Georgia were awarded the title this year, including the two Catholic schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Overall, 13 schools in the state were given the honor on Monday, Oct. 1.
The schools are reviewed blindly, with the judges having no knowledge of a school’s geographic location.
Holy Redeemer School
Principal Lauren Schell struggled to keep the good news under wraps from faculty and staff at the school. She had to keep the information quiet for days before the award was announced Oct. 1.
The award recognized Holy Redeemer as “a school with an engaged community, both inside and outside the school walls,” she said.
This is the second time Holy Redeemer School applied for this award, and the second time it has been honored.
Students and faculty left the surprise celebration in the school gym with blue beads and blue lollipops to mark the occasion, with a banner to display to school visitors.
Holy Redeemer opened its doors in 1999. The regional school serves students in kindergarten through eighth grades. The school has a student body of 454 from 14 parishes in the surrounding area.
The Johns Creek school, adjacent to St. Brigid Church, is accredited by AdvancEd. All of its teachers are certified, with 67 percent of faculty holding advanced degrees. The faculty has an average of 19 years’ teaching experience.
“As we enter our 20th year, we look back with pride on our achievements and look forward to the next 20 years of educating the students entrusted to our care to succeed academically and serve others, confident in their abilities and in their God-given gifts,” the principal wrote.
She said teaching students concepts through the STREAM curriculum (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) prepares them with vital communication skills and critical thinking. That approach, Schell believed, helped the school’s application stand out.
Christ the King School
Christ the King School opened in 1937 as a ministry of the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.
It has twice been recognized before by the Department of Education—in 1986 and 2007. This is the second school in the archdiocese to receive the Blue Ribbon honor for the third time—St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville, accomplished this achievement last year.
Two former principals returned for the announcement, which was held inside the cathedral. Tricia Ward,who retired this past summer, and Peggy Warner, who served as principal for two dozen years until 2012, attended the afternoon ceremony. Warner led the school when it received the first two awards.
Ward, who prepared the application before retiring, said the award is a testament to teachers who inspire the students with a love of learning and a belief they can succeed.
“It’s a collective effort. If we didn’t have anything to brag about, we couldn’t have applied,” said Ward.
The award reflects all the hard work done by both teachers and students, she said.
Msgr. Frank McNamee, rector of the cathedral, told the school community said that the founding religious sisters would be proud of what the students have accomplished. Today’s students build on the strong foundation of education and faith put down by the sisters, he said.
Principal Brian Newhall called the award a credit to the whole school community.
“This is an award that everyone in the school community has earned,” he said.
Shaun Bland, the assistant principal, said she believes the work of the school’s Parent Volunteer Association helped make the application shine. The association creates volunteer opportunities for school families during the weekends, so parents and students can serve together. Another highpoint in the application was the school’s work with collaborative STREAM teaching across subjects.
Located next to the mother church of the archdiocese, the school includes kindergarten through eighth grades with a student body of about 550 students. Some 40 percent of its teachers hold advanced degrees.