A quality education is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give any child. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. put it best in 1947: “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education.”

As governor, I have worked to spotlight outstanding examples of educators and schools that are helping deliver the quality education students need to succeed. Earlier this year, I visited schools to honor teachers helping improve student achievement and celebrate National Teacher Day. My Department of Economic Development and I have partnered with school districts across the state to provide quality programming exposing middle school students to opportunities in manufacturing and information technology fields. Additionally, I’ve worked to support initiatives in the Legislature that aim to improve student achievement.

This week, we are honoring Nebraska’s Blue Ribbon schools, which are helping students achieve a high level of academic excellence. Each year, the U.S. Department of Education honors schools nationwide for their commitment to excellence with their highly-selective Blue Ribbon award. In 2017, four Nebraska schools received the Blue Ribbon award. Nebraska’s 2017 Blue Ribbon schools are Calvert Elementary in Auburn, Dundee Elementary and Paddock Road Elementary in Omaha and Pender Elementary. These schools represent the very best of Nebraska’s education system. They instill both intelligence and character in their students and set them up for future success.

How does a school earn a Blue Ribbon? There are two different paths. First, a school can demonstrate significant progress in student achievement for at least three consecutive years. Many of these schools also have a student body in which at least 40 percent of students are disadvantaged in some way. Second, a school can be either in the top 15 percent of all schools in both reading and mathematics, or they must show significant gains in closing the achievement gap among student subgroups.

This year, all four of Nebraska’s Blue Ribbon schools received their distinctions for falling in the second category, which means they are in the top 15 percent of all schools in reading and mathematics.

These schools did not earn their distinction by accident -- it came through hard work, dedication and teamwork. For example, Paddock Road Elementary in Westside Community Schools in Omaha achieves its high standards through innovative practices. Teachers utilize I/E (intervention and enrichment) time to help their students develop projects around their areas of interest. Paddock Road has also developed a strategic plan to help measure their progress against goals they’ve set as a team. All of their certified staff are engaged in the process of developing this plan and common vision for their school.

Pender Elementary in Thurston County offers a multi-tiered system of support for students with additional needs. Pender Elementary connects students to mentors through their TeamMates program. The school district also operates a Beyond the Bell after-school program for students at no additional charge. Students who attend can receive help with homework and have access to additional programming. The area faith community has also teamed up with the school to create backpacks of food each weekend for students from families in need. Programs like these that leverage community support ensure that Pender Elementary’s students can focus on their work in the classroom and excel.

These are just a couple examples of the great work going on in Nebraska’s Blue Ribbon schools. These schools are setting the standard for other teams of students, parents, teachers and administrators who want to achieve a high level of academic excellence.

If your son or daughter attends a Blue Ribbon school, I’d encourage you to reach out to their teachers and administration and thank them for the great work they are doing. Running a school and teaching students can be challenging, but it is vitally important work. If your school is still working towards a Blue Ribbon, I’d encourage you to pull together fellow parents, teachers, and administrators to develop an action plan. A great education can make all the difference in a student’s success now and for a lifetime.

Gov. Pete Ricketts can be contacted at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.

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