By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
LEE’S SUMMIT — Earlier this semester, Our Lady of the Presentation School was notified that it had been selected a 2014 National Blue Ribbon School and an Exemplary High Performing School, the only private school in Missouri to receive the award, and one of only 50 private schools nationwide.
An MVP Assembly Nov. 21 at the school celebrated Presentation’s faculty, staff, students and parents and shared their joy and pride in the honor with governmental, business and civic leaders, principals of neighboring diocesan grade and high schools, and several local celebrities.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes outstanding schools, both public and non-public. The identification of several hundred exceptional schools each year celebrates some of the nation’s most effective, skilled educators.
Principal Jodi Briggs said, “We are honored to be recognized by the department of Education for the hard work of our students, dedication of our staff and support of our parents. This award belongs to the entire Presentation community.”
Briggs, Assistant Principal Emalee Rogers and Presentation School Board members Kathleen Chastain and Jeanne Rau-Flattery accepted the award at the Nov. 11 ceremony in Washington, D.C. Each Blue Ribbon School receives a plaque and flag to signify its exemplary status. The schools serve as examples for other schools and their achievements are posted on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Our Lady of the Presentation is the third Catholic elementary school in this Diocese to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School, joining St. Elizabeth and Visitation schools.
The program was the brainchild of Secretary of Education, Terrel H. Bell, named by President Reagan. Bell created the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award in 1982 to call attention to the best elementary and high schools in the country.
In the 32 years since, the department has awarded some 7,000 schools with the National Blue Ribbon designation. National Blue Ribbon Schools represent public schools including charter schools, magnet/choice schools, Title I schools, and non-public schools including parochial and independent schools. The schools are urban, suburban and rural, large and small, traditional and innovative, and serve students of every social, economic, and ethnic background.
Their leaders communicate a vision of excellence to staff, students and parents and hold them to high standards. They participate in the real action of teaching and of learning. There is a mutual respect and trust and support among faculty, students and parents.
The Blue Ribbon Schools program applies standards of excellence evidenced by student achievement measures and research-based indicators of school quality. Private schools are recognized as “Exemplary High Performing” if their student achievement in English and mathematics is among the top 15 percent in the country, measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).
Presentation was nominated for the award by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) which nominates non-public schools, including parochial and independent schools. The nomination invited the school to apply for the award.
In the 28-page application, the faculty, board members and members of the Lee’s Summit community summarized Our Lady of the Presentation’s faith-based education rooted in academic excellence and service to others. The summary noted, in part, that the “cornerstone of Our Lady of the Presentation Catholic School is academic excellence with a commitment of service to others rooted in Catholic values. Serving nearly 460 students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, OLP is proud to be dually accredited by the Missouri Non-Public Accrediting Association and AdvancEd. OLP students consistently score one to two years above grade level on standardized tests. Of 46 recent graduates, 23 received scholarships to local private and parochial high schools. Each year, approximately one-half of the 7th grade class qualifies for the DUKE TiP Testing Program by earning a Math, Language Arts, or Composite score of 95 percent or greater on the ITBS standardized test. Electronic tablets, interactive white boards and hand held response devices for each child provide instant feedback to classroom instruction.
“At Our Lady of the Presentation, service to others is vital. This past year, the student body accomplished 12,000+ hours of service to the school, parish, and community. Presentation was recently named Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year for 2014 due to their service and involvement in the local community. Our Lady of the Presentation is proud to be Lee’s Summit’s premiere Catholic School where we inspire spirit and academic growth.”
During her remarks at the MVP Assembly, Briggs recounted the two-year application process, which, the first time the application was submitted resulted in what she called “a big F.” But, rather than throw in the towel or place the blame elsewhere, the preparers learned from their mistakes and set out to reapply. In September of this year, Briggs was notified that Presentation was one of 337 schools nationwide to receive the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award.
A number of special guests attended the assembly, including Dr. Dan Peters, Diocesan Superintendent of Schools; John O’Connor, principal of Archbishop O’Hara High School; Natalie McDonough, principal of Notre Dame de Sion High School; Gregg Harkness, principal of Rockhurst High School; Liz Baker, principal of Nativity of Mary School in Independence; and Dr. Eric Flack and Associate Superintendent Dr. Kevin Daniel, administrative representatives of the Lee’s Summit School District.
“We work cooperatively (with the school district) to provide services for students in Catholic schools in Lee’s Summit,” Briggs said.
Also present was Matt Sanning, Lee’s Summit Social Services Director. Briggs said that for the last two years the school raised enough money from our Turkey Trot 5K to donate $10,000 to Lee’s Summit Social Services to help feed the hungry in the community.
Lee’s Summit police officers, Sgt. Cary Colyne and Officer Heil attended the assembly. Sgt. Colyne works with the DARE program at Presentation. Officer Heil is the school’s DARE officer.
Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads and Jackson County Executive Michael Sanders, whose children go to Nativity of Mary School attended.
Michael Clark from U.S. Senator Roy Blunt’s office was present. State Representative Gary Cross, who hails from Lee’s Summit, presented the Missouri House of Representatives declaration recognizing the day along with a Missouri State Flag to Briggs.
Steve Culbertson, manager of the local Hy-Vee grocery store, a “huge OLP supporter,” was in attendance, as was Nancy Bass, the Presentation parent who does the school’s signage.
Our Lady of the Presentation was one of FIRE Foundation’s partner schools participating in the recent FIREBall cup challenge to sell raffle tickets for FIRE Ball, the foundation’s annual fund raiser. Winning the FIREBall Cup for selling the most tickets, the students also won the privilege of having Sporting Kansas City soccer star Seth Sinovic visit Our Lady of the Presentation School and attend the assembly.
Former Kansas City Royal Frank White, now a member of the Jackson County Legislature, was present.
Many of the guests spoke to the students, faculty and parents at the assembly, congratulating Our Lady of the Presentation School for their hard work and offering wisdom from their own experiences. Frank White reminded the assembly that “hard work doesn’t necessarily mean success, but success isn’t possible without hard work.”
And how did the faculty, students and parents take the news that they were named a Blue Ribbon School? Briggs said, “Those involved, who understood the process, were very excited! A school must be in top 15 percent of high achieving schools to even apply for the Blue Ribbon recognition. I am very proud of the school community! This award belongs to our students, staff, parents and everyone who gives of their time and talent. The Blue Ribbon School award is not just for high test scores but also for the school climate, the extra-curricular activities, parent involvement, etc. All are taken into consideration.”
But Our Lady of the Presentation School is about more than academics and extra-curriculars. Father Tom Holder, pastor of Our Lady of the Presentation Parish, opened the assembly saying, “At the heart of everything we do here at Presentation is our faith. Our faith truly makes us special.”
As a parish school, there are daily and weekly opportunities to participate in liturgies and faith activities. Every grade participates in service to others, focusing on giving to those in the school, parish, local community and the country. Presentation students are able to live their faith in a strong academic setting with a staff committed to Catholic education.
The belief that every child is a unique gift from God with a special purpose for life is instrumental in establishing programs and learning opportunities for students. The school faculty and staff share with parents the mission of educating and morally developing the students.
The school motto, “faith, academics and service” exemplifies the strong belief of inspiring spiritual and academic growth of the children. Presentation strives to reach the whole child – spiritually, intellectually and socially. Some of the faith activities include: the Sack Mass. Presentation Student Council coordinates a “food drive” for Lee’s Summit Social services in which grades K-five are assigned items to bring and grades six through eight bring money to buy turkeys. At the Sack Mass, students bring their sacks with food items and STUCO delivers them to Lee’s Summit Social Services. This coordinates with the Turkey Trot 5K event to support school literacy initiatives and the social service agency. The Turkey Trot raised $26,000 of which $10,000 was donated to Lee’s Summit Social Services. Presentation’s strong community presence and volunteerism helped the school receive a $500,000 Kohl’s Cares Grant.
There are monthly dress down days where money is donated to specific charities; and a collection of personal hygiene items for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
At the close of the assembly, Briggs made a special announcement. As a reward for hard work, faith, cooperation and service that culminated in the Blue Ribbon Award, the students were given a day off from school later this month. Four hundred fifty eight students can make a lot of noise. The cheers were deafening.