When is it good to feel blue? When your school wins the Blue Ribbon excellence award from the U.S. Department of Education.
Students and staff at Shaw Avenue School wore their feelings on their sleeves after it was announced that the District 30 elementary school had won the coveted honor. School administrators found out on Sept. 24, and the following day, most of the 750-plus children and adults who call the school their daytime home came clad in blue.
Shaw Avenue is the first school in Valley Stream to receive the Blue Ribbon Award, which recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in their academic achievement.
“I’m elated,” said Principal Amy Pernick. “I think it’s validation of everything we knew about the school.”
Pernick, who is in her first year as principal after five years as assistant principal, was joined by administrators and board members as they watched U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s press conference live in a sixth-grade classroom. It ended without an announcement of the winning schools, but moments later, Pernick got an email confirming what many District 30 officials already suspected.
Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Stirling said the award is a tribute to everyone in the school community, from the staff to the parents to the crossing guards. “Everyone’s part is significant, no matter how small or large,” Stirling said. “Everyone has got to make a contribution in order for the system to work.”
He added that while the award went to Shaw Avenue, it is an honor for the entire district. Stirling credited District 30’s strong curriculum, high expectations for students and the hard work of the staff to do what is best for the district’s children.
The school was nominated for the award last November, largely because of its impressive results on the 2012 state tests. Ten months later, Shaw Avenue became one of only four Long Island schools to earn the Blue Ribbon designation this year.
School board President Carolyn Torres said she was not surprised. “Personally, I knew we were going to get it,” she said. “Shaw Avenue is an excellent school.”
Torres noted that Shaw Avenue has gone through some tumultuous times in the past few years, specifically repeated turnover in the principal ranks. However, she said, there have been two constants — Pernick and a devoted teaching staff.
“They have worked very, very hard as a unit to push the children forward,” Torres said. “They’ve never lost sight of what’s important.”
Sue Lipski, a second-grade teacher, is one of those staff members. She has been at Shaw Avenue since 1992, and said it is a place where students comes first. “It’s full of dedicated teachers who love their craft,” Lipski said. “We believe that every student can succeed.”
Rosemary Decker, who co-teaches with Lipski for half of the day, said Shaw Avenue is a place where students learn not only academics, but also how to be good people. Decker said that the school’s character education program is a big part of what makes it a special place.
Lipski and Decker agreed that whenever expectations are raised, the students accept and meet the challenge. They added that the district is innovative, and is often ahead of the trends in education.
After finding out about the award, Jennifer Graham built a blue balloon arch for the main entrance, and children walked beneath it when they arrived at school on Sept. 25. Graham, the mother of a Shaw Avenue second-grader, said it took 230 balloons and three hours to build, but was well worth it.
She and her husband, who both attended the school, said they are glad they send their daughter there. “My daughter is loving school,” Graham said. “She loves her teachers. She’s doing very well.”
PTA President Oneka Chan, who had two children graduate from the school and has two children still there, was understandably excited. “It is such an honor to receive such an accolade,” she said. “Receiving this award is really going to put Shaw Avenue School on the map — and District 30.”
Although the award was presented this year, Shaw Avenue will be a Blue Ribbon School in perpetuity. “It’s ours forever,” Pernick said. “We’re not giving it back.”
“It will be an ongoing reminder of what the possibilities can be for not only Shaw, but for the entire school community,” Stirling added. “We are always striving for excellence.”
On Nov. 18, Pernick and at least one other district official will head to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony honoring Blue Ribbon schools from across the nation. She will return with a plaque and a banner that will be hung on the building for the community to see. Shortly afterward, the district will hold a local ceremony to celebrate the accomplishment.
The application for the award was more than 20 pages, and included teachers’ testimonials. Much of it was completed by Stirling, Pernick and her immediate predecessor, Johane Ligonde.
Torres said the Blue Ribbon award is not only prestigious, but an indicator that school officials need to stay the course. “This just doesn’t fall in your lap,” she said. “It’s not a ‘who you know’ award. It’s an award that’s earned.”