WASHINGTON — Four Arizona schools were honored in Washington Tuesday as National Blue Ribbon Schools, those that excel despite what U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called “very real challenges” facing education today.
Challenges like those at Francicso Vasquez de Coronado Elementary in Nogales, a border-community school where 97 percent of the students are Hispanic and 33 percent speak English as a second language. But that does not deter teachers there, said Coronado lead teacher Sandra Jimenez.
“It could be considered a challenge, but we have a lot of teachers who grew up in the area so a lot of them are bilingual and know the culture,” Jimenez said at Tuesday’s ceremony.
Coronado was joined by Xavier College Preparatory Roman Catholic High School in Phoenix, Sabino High School in Tucson and the Chandler Traditional Academy-Liberty Campus as the four Arizona schools among the 286 honored at the Department of Education ceremony.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools program, started in 1982, honors exemplary schools – those that perform well on state and national tests – or schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students that show “exemplary improvement” on state and national assessments.
The Blue Ribbon is nothing new to Phoenix’s Xavier College Prep – the private school has won the award twice before.
“It is a lot of hard work,” said Sister Joan Fitzgerald, Xavier’s principal. She said the continued recognition from the Education Department is an affirmation of the school’s work ethic.
While the department said being a Blue Ribbon School could help with recruitment at private schools and public schools with open enrollment, Sabino High already does well in that area. More than half of Sabino’s student body already comes from outside the school’s boundaries.
“Our students want to come because of our high expectations,” said Russell Doty, assistant principal at Sabino.
Doty said Arizona is not the easiest place to have a high school that excels, but Sabino is proof that hard work pays off.
Educators from the award-winning schools were invited to Washington by the Education Department for the award ceremony, as well as workshops where educators shared with each other what makes their schools great.
Beth Ann Bader, the principal at Chandler Traditional Academy-Liberty Campus, said the two days of meetings showed her a lot that could improve how she runs her school.
“Our goal as a blue-ribbon school is to not only continue to serve our students but also to work with our sister schools,” Bader said.
There are five Chandler Traditional Academy schools. Bader said she is going to use what she learned in Washington to help improve all five, and possibly the whole Chandler Unified District.
Coronado Principal Annette Barber said the award comes after a lot of hard work from everyone at the school, but agreed with Bader that the award is not the end of the hard work.
“You have to keep on trying harder, you can’t stop here,” Barber said. “We have to find different ways to help all of the students achieve.”