By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
The excitement was palpable as more than 700 students filled St. Margaret Mary’s school yard on a mild October afternoon for a carnival-style event celebrating the school’s second National Blue Ribbon award from the United States Department of Education.
That event, held Oct. 23, was the culmination of a weeklong celebration at the school on Shelbyville Road.
St. Margaret Mary School, which offers kindergarten through eighth-grade, was named a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School along with three others in the Archdiocese of Louisville — St. Mary Academy, St. Albert the Great and St. Gabriel the Archangel schools. St. Margaret Mary was honored with the award in 2004, as well.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Wendy Sims, principal of St. Margaret Mary. She noted that this award is an opportunity to “focus on the good things” the school is about. “It’s an honor to be able to celebrate with other wonderful schools and to show the world that St. Margaret Mary is still at that level of excellence.”
Sims said during an interview at the school that earning a Blue Ribbon distinction takes a “strong community” working together — “talented” kids, teachers, staff and parents who are involved.
Students wrote essays about what this distinction means during the celebration week. One of the recurring themes in the essays, Sims noted, was the sense that the school had worked as a team.
“I love that the children recognized the school accomplished this together. Some of them said, ‘We have one of the best schools in the nation.’ They feel special,” said Sims with a proud smile.
Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said in an article published last month in The Record, that the four winning schools scored in the top 15 percent on standardized tests in the nation. Schulz also noted that other factors, such as curriculum and extracurricular activities and the school’s role in the community are taken into account for the Blue Ribbon distinction.
“The Blue Ribbon award is a very prestigious recognition for schools and only 50 non-public schools are able to receive it,” said Schulz. “St. Margaret Mary has an excellent academic program. They work very hard to provide academic excellence for their students and we’re very proud of their achievement.”
Sims said she’s proud of the fact that St. Margaret Mary offers strong academics as well as strong arts, drama and music programs.
“It’s important that we find every student’s gifts and talents. Not every child is strong academically, but they can still shine in other ways,” she noted. Sims said it’s very important to be able to say to parents, “We have all the elements that your child needs.”
Natalie Androla, a sixth-grade teacher who worked on the award application, said earning this distinction is not just about turning in an application, but working diligently every day.
“We put in a lot of work throughout the year to meet the needs of our students each and every day,” said Androla, who will be traveling to Washington, D.C., with Sims to attend the national award ceremony next month. “I’m excited to go and accept the award on behalf of the other teachers and the St. Margaret Mary community.”
Androla and Sims agree that the challenge now is to maintain the Blue Ribbon standards. Sims said she’s entering her sixth year as principal at St. Margaret Mary and winning this distinction was one of the goals she’d set. In the larger scheme of things, Sims said, her goal is “to always keep those standards of excellence and to always put the children’s needs first.”
During the carnival last Friday, students took part in a variety of games, had a blue ribbon painted on their faces and sang karaoke. The weeklong celebration also included an all-blue free-dress day, blue ribbon prize giveaways, blue treats and an essay contest.