By Megan Mertz
Three schools operated by LCMS congregations have been named “National Blue Ribbon Schools” for 2013 — the highest honor that the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) bestows on individual schools each year.
The three schools are Messiah Lutheran School, St. Charles, Mo.; Our Redeemer Lutheran School, Wauwatosa, Wis.; and St. Peter Lutheran School, Arlington Heights, Ill.
They are among 286 elementary, middle and high schools around the country that received the honor this year. The three schools are among 50 private Blue Ribbon schools — the maximum number allowed each year — which were evaluated and endorsed by the Council for American Private Education before being forwarded to the USDE for consideration.
“These great American schools earned this recognition because their students are achieving at the highest levels in their states or because their students are making outstanding improvements in their levels of academic achievements,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a video message posted on the USDE’s website on Sept. 24, the day of the announcement.
To receive “Blue Ribbon” status, schools go through a detailed application process that takes almost a year.
Principal Tom Guenzler of Messiah Lutheran School said the process included “looking at pretty much everything regarding the school — culture, environment, staff, curriculum, professional development, instruction, school programs, ways you reach out to the community,” in addition to five consecutive years of standardized test scores.
“Speaking on behalf of approximately 2,300 Lutheran schools, we all celebrate the accomplishments of the three outstanding Lutheran schools that were selected for Blue Ribbon distinction this year,” said Terry Schmidt, director of LCMS School Ministry.
“These three schools represent a cross section of the pursuit of quality that is taking place throughout our Synod in Lutheran schools that are striving to excel. All glory, praise and thanks to God for His work among our students, families and teachers at these three great schools and in Lutheran schools in our country and around the world,” Schmidt continued.
The three LCMS schools plan to celebrate their national recognition in different ways. But all will hold a special event following the USDE’s recognition ceremony Nov. 18-19 in Washington, D.C., when each winner will receive a plaque and a flag.
At Our Redeemer Lutheran School, which was founded in 1931, blue suckers were distributed to the nearly 300 preschool through eighth-grade students shortly after staff learned about the honor. Teachers received caramel apples.
Mary Irish, principal of Our Redeemer, said plans are underway for the Blue Ribbon Gala Dinner and Auction, which will be held on Oct. 19. Staff members also are planning a special presentation to the church on Nov. 24, with a community-oriented event to follow the next day when the Blue Ribbon flag is raised for the first time.
Thirteen-year-old Messiah Lutheran School, which has some 350 students in preschool through eighth grade, is planning an event that will bring together school families and the congregation.
At St. Peter Lutheran School, which was founded in 1864, students celebrated the award by tying blue ribbons on all of the trees on the school’s property. They also received blue suckers. Principal Bruce Rudi said blue-themed celebrations are being planned during the remainder of the school year, which will include giving out blue T-shirts and blue cupcakes to the school’s approximately 550 preschool through eighth-grade students.
“For us, it’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Christian education and be able to put God on the forefront of our recognition,” Rudi said. “It gives us a chance to witness in a very unique and public way about who we are and what our education is all about.”
Since the inception of the National Blue Ribbon Schools program 31 years ago, nearly 7,500 schools have earned the prestigious designation.
Megan Mertz is a staff writer with LCMS Communications.