National Blue Ribbon Award enhances 25th-year celebration

From left to right, Aquinas students Ryan Pottier, Mary Fortino, Lauren Holley, Tyler Heying, Clare Eagan, Jimmy Clark, Katie Ahern, Wade Parks, Margaret Skorija, John Ekedahl, and Theresa Wynne pose with Father Andrew Strobl, chaplain of Aquinas, in front of the school last year. Aquinas was named as a 2012 Blue Ribbon School. Photo by Michelle Gress
From left to right, Aquinas students Ryan Pottier, Mary Fortino, Lauren Holley, Tyler Heying, Clare Eagan, Jimmy Clark, Katie Ahern, Wade Parks, Margaret Skorija, John Ekedahl, and Theresa Wynne pose with Father Andrew Strobl, chaplain of Aquinas, in front of the school last year. Aquinas was named as a 2012 Blue Ribbon School. Photo by Michelle Gress

OVERLAND PARK — The St. Thomas Aquinas High School community here was all “atwitter” on Sept. 7 after U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced in Washington, D.C., that the school is a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School (NBRS). By way of Facebook, Twitter and email, news of the award swiftly disseminated to parents, alumni and friends, and students were informed during class over the intercom.

The NBRS program recognizes schools in one of two performance categories based on overall academic excellence.

The first category, for which St. Thomas Aquinas is being honored, is “Exemplary High Performing.” Schools in this category are recognized among their state’s highest performing schools, as measured by state assessments or national standardized tests.

In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas is just one of 50 private schools in the country to receive the designation, along with 219 public schools from across the country. It is the only Catholic high school in Kansas to receive the Blue Ribbon Award. School president William Ford believes the award reflects a dedication to the school’s Catholic mission coupled with a widespread adherence to high standards.

“The National Blue Ribbon Award is a validation of our quality academic program and the conscious and intentional school-wide effort to ensure that each student at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School has the opportunity to reach their God-given potential and acquire the skills needed for lifelong achievement.

“Most importantly, it is recognition that Catholic education at Saint Thomas Aquinas reinforces a comprehensive way of life that permeates every aspect of our activities and curriculum with a strong focus on educating the whole child.”

“It is especially fitting that this designation comes as we celebrate our 25th year as a premier Catholic high school in the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area,” he added. “I am grateful to all the parents over these past 25 years who have entrusted their children to us.”

Kathy O’Hara, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, said she was very pleased to see one of the archdiocesan high schools receive the National Blue Ribbon Award.

“For Saint Thomas Aquinas High School to be recognized,” she said, “speaks to the excellence that is at the heart of our mission in Catholic schools.”

“In order to help our students come to personally know and love Jesus, we must make sure that they develop well their God-given talents of mind, body, and spirit,” O’Hara continued. “The Blue Ribbon Award is one sign that the faculty and staff at Saint Thomas Aquinas do just that. Congratulations, Saints!”

Saints math teachers Craig Moss and Brian Schenck helped coordinate the Blue Ribbon application process.
“Saint Thomas Aquinas begins to evaluate the knowledge and readiness of the state curriculum very early in the freshman year,” explained Schenck. “We use a standardized test to get baseline information about our students.”

The information gleaned from that test is then put to work on behalf of the students.

“We have established the ELO (Extended Learning Opportunity),” said Schenck, “to help students who test behind where they should be in terms of knowledge of the state curriculum.  We feel this early intervention helps keep our students focused and it also allows us to establish an important test environment.”

Moss said the award is the “result of a community that is striving for excellence in everything it does.  We have a very fine, caring faculty that has high expectations of everyone, whether they are the highest performing student, the lowest performing, or somewhere in between. Those high expectations lead to the development of very capable students with strong Catholic values.”

Since 1988, St. Thomas Aquinas High School has graduated 5,889 young men and women and has a current enrollment of 937 students. Ford has served as president of the high school for 15 of its 25 years.

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