Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:05 PM on Wednesday, September 12, 2012

West Homer named 'Blue Ribbon School'

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

Last spring Raymond Marshall, West Homer Elementary School principal, learned the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development had nominated the school for recognition as a Blue Ribbon School. Nominated didn't mean selected, however.

First, Marshall and his staff had to submit to the U.S. Department of Education's National Blue Ribbon Schools Program a multi-page packet of information about the school. Then the school had to make AYP, adequate yearly progress, for the 2011-2012 school year.

"Once I found out that we made AYP, I knew the news would be forthcoming," said Marshall.

Indeed it was. Last week, Marshall was informed that West Homer Elementary School has been selected as one of the nation's 269 Blue Ribbon Schools for 2012.

"Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential," said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, in announcing this year's selected schools. "Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future."

Since that announcement, congratulations have poured in.

"It gives me great pleasure to extend Senator (Lisa) Murkowski's heartfelt congratulations to you and to everyone in the West Homer Elementary School community for a well-deserved recognition," said Karen McCarthy, Murkowski's legislative assistant.

Dr. Steve Atwater, superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, added his praise of the school. At the Monday meeting of the KPB school board, Atwater pointed out the award honored WHES "as one of the state's highest performing schools."

In a press release, Atwater added, "I am thrilled to learn that West Homer Elementary is the recipient of a Blue Ribbon School award. This award is an excellent way to recognize the superb work of the West Homer staff with the students as well as the wonderful level of support for the school by the greater West Homer Elementary community."

Since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education has identified schools where students attain and maintain high academic goals. Of more than 138,000 schools in the United States, almost 7,000 have received this honor.

The Blue Ribbon Schools program recognizes schools in one of two performing categories. The first category is "exemplary high performing," in which schools are recognized for being among the state's highest performing schools. The second is "exemplary improving," in which schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds demonstrate the most progress in improving student achievement levels. Liz Downing of Homer, school board vice president, pointed out the reason WHES received the award was because of being a consistently high performing school.

"It certainly was when my son was there and even though staff have come and gone, the heart of West Homer is still high expectation, wonderful teaching and a great environment," said Downing.

West Homer is the ninth KPBSD school to receive "Blue Ribbon" status since the national program began. Three schools in Alaska were selected this year. In addition to WHES, they include Point Higgins Elementary School in Ketchikan and Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, also in Ketchikan.

"I think this is huge for our school, community and the district," said Marshall. "This award puts our school on the map for the top (269) best schools in the entire nation. Most teachers work an entire career and never work in a school that receives a Blue Ribbon Award. Most students never have the opportunity to attend such a school and most communities are not as educationally fortunate as we are here in Homer."

Today, Marshall will announce the award to WHES students during an assembly. A ceremony honoring the Blue Ribbon Schools will take place in Washington, D.C, on Nov. 12-13. Marshall and WHES teacher Shirley Gribble are planning to attend.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben. jackinsky@homernews.com.