Blue and gold of St. Paul’s merits U.S. Blue Ribbon
St. Paul’s School, a fixture in Covington since 1911, has been nationally recognized as a 2015 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
“It means a great deal,” said Joe Dickens, St. Paul’s assistant principal, about the designation. “It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized as one of the best schools in the country by the Department of Education. In no way do we think we’ve arrived or want to become complacent. We want to use this as a springboard for further improvement. We want to show all of our stakeholders we got to this point, and we want to get it again in five years and be an even better school than we are now.”
A select group
A total of 335 elementary, middle and high schools – 285 public and 50 private – received the 2015 award. They were recognized with an engraved plaque and a banner with the official Blue Ribbon School of Excellence seal at an awards ceremony last November in Washington, D.C.
Dickens and St. Paul’s principal Trevor Watkins attended the ceremony and breakout sessions prior to the presentation. They heard Dr. John King, the new U.S. secretary of education, speak about sharing a school’s improvement plan with other schools.
“It was a great experience,” Dickens said. “It was not only a celebration. The award ceremony could not have been more convivial. They wanted you to have fun.”
This is the first time St. Paul’s has received this designation. It recognizes the school’s legacy and values as a Christian Brothers School.
“It validates what we have always known about St. Paul’s: that by adhering to the Lasallian Catholic tradition of education, as St. Paul’s has done since 1911, we continue to transform lives – a tradition that dates back to 1680, when St. John Baptist de La Salle, the patron saint of teachers, founded the Christian Brothers,” Christian Brother Ray Bulliard, school president, said.
How St. Paul’s shines
Dickens credits Brother Ray and Watkins as visionaries who emphasized tracking students’ interests and college majors. St. Paul’s uses a core STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum and molds auxiliary courses to prepare students for those popular fields.
For example, engineering and four levels of biomedical science initiatives were added as extracurricular, something that has helped those studying engineering in college.
“Beyond that, we look at the interests of kids who aren’t necessarily into science and engineering,” Dickens said. “We have law and business classes and a theater department that rivals anyone. We make it work for the kids with innovative and creative ideas. We pay attention to what 21st century kids need. We do a good job trying to mold people here, not just (promote) their academic success.”
Recent physical plant improvements have enhanced learning as well. St. Paul’s opened its new gym in the fall and completed other on-campus renovations, turning old dorms into a state-of-the-art math and engineering building.
Dickens said what makes St. Paul’s special is that is completely student-centered.
“We focus on the needs of our students,” he said. “Every decision we make, we always keep the students’ best interest at heart, anticipating their needs and future. ... When you combine the past of the school and our history – going back to 1680 in France – then look at the future while keeping kids’ interest at heart, you end up with a good place.”
Longevity of the program
The Blue Ribbon School program, founded in 1982, has recognized 7,500 American public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on “their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.”
Among the eligibility requirements for nonpublic schools like St. Paul’s were: being a high-performing school, with students placing in the top 15 percent nationwide in reading (or English language arts) and in mathematics on a nationally normed test or in the top 15 percent of its state as measured by a state test; having students from disadvantaged backgrounds scoring similar to all students tested; and having graduation rates of 95 percent or higher in the qualifying year.
St. Paul’s, which offers grades 8-12 and has an enrollment of 870 students, had an average score of 26 on the ACT score for the application year.
Nonpublic schools are first screened by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). St. Paul’s applied to CAPE in December 2014.
The top 50 nonpublic schools, as chosen by CAPE, submitted forms to the U.S. Department of Education, Dickens said. St. Paul’s learned it was to be a Blue Ribbon School in September 2015.
Dickens spent approximately 50-60 hours preparing the 20-page qualifying Blue Ribbon document with demographic data, school tuition and a narrative that described the school and explained worthiness of the award. Though tedious, he said compiling the date would help with St. Paul’s self-assessment and school improvement plan in the future.
The principal elements of St. Paul’s application were five core Lasallian principles as an academically strong Christian Brothers school.
“We are trying to create good people, not just good students, to prepare them for life as best as we can,” the school told the Blue Ribbon evaluators. “We want them to be confident, life-long learners and good, moral people with a concern for the poor and social justice and an inclusive community, have faith in the presence of God and respect for all persons. You see that intermeshed in everything we do.”
For details on St. Paul’s application and other Louisiana and national schools that received the 2015 Blue Ribbon status, visit: nationalblueribbonschools.ed.gov/awardwinners/