St. Thomas Aquinas nominated as National Blue Ribbon School
by Jessica Langdon
OVERLAND PARK — St. Thomas Aquinas High School here had several reasons to celebrate this winter — including a nomination for a prestigious honor.
Aquinas received word that the Council for American Private Education has nominated it as a National Blue Ribbon School.
The nomination alone is no small feat. There are 33,740 private and parochial elementary, middle and high schools across the country. St. Thomas Aquinas was one of only 50 schools CAPE nominated for consideration as a National Blue Ribbon School to the U.S. Department of Education.
News of the nomination arrived soon after St. Thomas Aquinas learned it had — for the fourth time — received the Kansas Department of Education’s Governor’s Achievement Award for 2011.
So this national nomination was a “really big deal” on top of a big deal, president Dr. Bill Ford said.
“The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and non- public elementary, middle, and high schools where students achieve at very high levels and/or where the achieve- ment gap is narrowing,” reads the pro- gram’s website. “The program sets a standard of excellence for all schools striving for the highest level of achievement.”
Confident their school met the criteria for the Blue Ribbon designation that recognizes high performance, St. Thomas Aquinas administrators submitted their application to CAPE.
One line from the application process resonates in particular with Ford: “There’s a lot of good schools in the country — what we’re looking for are great schools.”
That idea reflects what St. Thomas Aquinas has always known it was doing, said Ford.
“We were doing more than good work — we were doing great work — in a lot of sectors,” he said.
The high school strives to follow four core values in everything it does. Those are faith, excellence (with an emphasis on long-term learning), service, and a sense of community.
“We blend all four of those into an experience for all young people,” said Ford, stressing the emphasis of success for all students.
“We take every kid, and we bring them forward to their potential,” he said.
Schools must meet certain academic criteria — including the federal Adequate Yearly Progress measurement and the state’s Academic Performance Index — over five years to qualify for NBRS designation.
Upon learning of the nomination, Ford was quick to thank the faculty and staff for their work.
“They’re committed to teaching each kid, and I think that’s important,” he said. “They’re a dedicated bunch. Many of them have been here the whole time the school has been open and still give that energy they brought when they were almost kids.”
The classroom is where so much of this happens.
“They believe in the place. They believe in the mission,” Ford said.
The students themselves are driven by a strong work ethic, too, a quality Ford believes begins at home.
“We just have a tremendous amount of parental support for all our programs,” he said. “Without a strong home life, without strong support from home, we probably couldn’t accomplish half of what we do.”
Aquinas administrators will complete some materials and send the final version of their application to the Department of Education. Then they will wait. There is a review process for nominated schools. The U.S. Department of
Education generally announces the winning National Blue Ribbon Schools in September.
Strong achievements in reading and math played a role in the recognition St. Thomas Aquinas earned as one of 18 high schools in Kansas to receive the prestigious Governor’s Achievement Award.
The award was given to schools that achieved the Standard of Excellence in both subjects.
Additionally, the school was among the top five percent of schools in reading and mathematics based on the Kansas Assessment Tests.
St. Thomas Aquinas was the only high school in Johnson County — Catholic or public, 5A or 6A — to receive the 2011 Governor’s Achievement Award.
The high school also received the governor’s award in 2006, 2007 and 2010.