On Sept. 15, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Sunflower Elementary School as a recipient of the highest academic award presented by the department of education – the National Blue Ribbon Award.
Sunflower Elementary is the first school in USD 231 history to receive this prestigious honor.
“The National Blue Ribbon Award is a public acknowledgment and testament to the hard work and dedication of our students, staff, parents and community,” said Bill Gilhaus, superintendent of schools. “The Blue Ribbon Award is the highest accolade an academic institution can receive nationally, and we are extremely proud of this outstanding achievement and recognition.”
The National Blue Ribbon program honors elementary and secondary schools that make significant progress in closing the achievement gap, recognizing those schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds and have dramatically improved student performance to high levels in reading and mathematics. The program also recognizes schools in which students achieve in the top 15 percent in the state on reading and mathematics assessments regardless of demographics. Sunflower Elementary was nominated in this category.
Each year since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education has sought out schools where students attain and maintain high academic goals, including those that beat the odds. The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private schools based on one of two criteria:
1) Schools whose students, regardless of backgrounds, are high performing. These are schools ranked among the state’s highest performing schools as measured by their performance on state assessments or in the case of private schools, that score at the highest performance level on tests referenced by national norms in at least the most recent year tested; and
2) Schools with at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds that improve student performance to high levels as measured by the school’s performance on state assessments or nationally-normed tests.
“In my 24 years as an educator, I have learned that students respond best to positive reinforcement. The Blue Ribbon Award is a direct result of the positive support we have received from Sunflower students, families, staff and administration,” said Robin Droge, fourth grade teacher at Sunflower. “I truly feel honored to be a part of our community as it receives this recognition.”
A committee consisting of school administrators, staff members from previously honored NBR schools, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the Kansas Association of School Boards, and the Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals review data on schools deemed to have dramatically improved to high levels and those achieving at high levels regardless of demographics. These selected schools are then nominated by the Kansas Department of Education to the United States Secretary of Education. Once nominated, a lengthy application is required to be submitted to the US Department of Education by the nominated school.
“The entire USD 231 staff constantly strives to ensure the academic programs delivered meet the needs of our students, while encouraging them to do their very best every day,” Gilhaus adds. “Students seek knowledge, are prepared to learn, and rise to that challenge on a daily basis. The high distinction held by the National Blue Ribbon Award certifies their efforts and is well deserved.”
Sunflower Principal Dustin Mortenson said he was proud of the award, but acknowledges all USD 231 schools in the district are worthy of the honor.
“This recognition validates the work of our students, teachers, and colleagues throughout the District. It is exciting and we are going to have fun with it,” said Principal Dustin Mortenson. “Truth be told, Sunflower is fortunate to be a recipient of the Blue Ribbon, because I know of five other elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school in our district that is just as deserving.”