Prepared Remarks from Secretary DeVos to the National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony

Prepared Remarks from Secretary DeVos to the National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony

November 7, 2017
November 7, 2017

Thank you, Blake, for that kind introduction.

If you haven't yet had the privilege of meeting him, Blake is a talented senior from George Mason High School in Falls Church. From performing with Harry Connick, Jr. and Andrea Bocelli to being selected to perform at Carnegie Hall, Blake has developed quite the impressive resume in his young but promising life-long learning journey.

I also want to thank Adam Honeysett, Aba Kumi, Frances Hopkins and all the dedicated staff at the Department who played a role in bringing this year's honorees together. It wouldn't have happened without your help.

And of course, the primary reason I am here today is to congratulate you – this year's National Blue Ribbon School award winners.

You represent a wide variety of schools, coming from 44 states, the District of Colombia and Department of Defense schools in Japan, Germany and West Point, New York. Of more than 130 thousand schools in the United States, you have been recognized as the cream of the crop.

Since the program's inception 35 years ago in 1982, only 8,500 schools have been recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools. You are truly in rare company.

National Blue Ribbon Schools put students at the center of everything. You recognize that a world-class education is the surest way for students to achieve their individual goals and dreams.

America's students are more diverse than ever, and we all know that no child is the same as another. National Blue Ribbon Schools recognize that different students in different places have different needs. We recognize a wide array of schools for this award precisely because of this reality. The unique needs of each and every student aren't met by a one-size-fits all approach.

This is why I continue to urge everyone involved in education to "rethink school" – to thoughtfully question and challenge everything through one clarifying lens: how does this improve individual student achievement?

Each of your schools is admired because you have a deep and positive impact on students. Principals, teachers and support staff at National Blue Ribbon Schools work hard to ensure that students get what they need to learn. Late nights, early mornings, long weekends or through the summer – whether you're conducting home visits, hosting new learning opportunities or reaching out to community partners – in every situation you're present for your students.

A school is just a building. Your work, your care and your love makes what goes on there something really special.

Yet even National Blue Ribbon schools must continually do better for their students. Excellence is not a destination.

That's why more schools should embrace innovative approaches like personalized learning programs, place-based learning or hands-on, interactive project learning opportunities.

I was inspired throughout our Rethink School Tour, including a visit to Lincoln Children's Zoo in Nebraska. There, students in Lincoln Public Schools' Science Focus program have the opportunity to learn in an interesting environment that enlivens their curiosities and brings textbooks to life.

Each Blue Ribbon school is a standout on its own, so I hesitate to highlight any. But I do so in the hope that you will each draw inspiration from others with whom you share this award, and that you will all learn from one another.

Faculty and staff at Calvert Elementary School in Auburn, Nebraska, personalize student learning with differentiated and supportive instruction. Students are able to learn and advance at their own pace. Those who need additional time on any given subject get it. While those who are ready to move on, can.

When we focus on the needs of each child, success can then be measured by what he or she learns and masters, not by how long one sits at a desk.

Oakwood Elementary School, in Plymouth, Minnesota is driven by a set of key values to help students realize their abilities: personalized learning; academic choices; community; and building strong relationships. Oakwood employs a "My Way" initiative to prepare students for our rapidly changing global society. Students are given state-of-the-art tools to help broaden the academic content they can access and to facilitate new forms of expression.

Project-based learning has been instrumental in student success at Alabama's Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School. Students gain independence, learn time management and use personal- and peer-assessments to evaluate their projects. Projects have included a soap opera in Spanish and an amusement park built to simulate systems of the human body.

At Doral Academy of Technology, a middle school in Florida, a rigorous college-prep curriculum begins in sixth-grade. Students take seven courses per year in levels ranging from Intensive Support to Pre-AP. Students engage in project-based learning that encourages them to apply content knowledge to real-life problems.

California Academy of Mathematics and Science in Carson is a four-year high school on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills. There, the focus is on increasing STEM college graduates. The Academy offers students transferable university credits in grades 11 and 12; on average, CAMS students earn 22 units of college credit by graduation.

Each National Blue Ribbon School embodies that kind of excellence. You are helping others to rethink school. Your vision for meeting students' needs and guiding them toward achievement is inspiring.

For all the representatives of schools here celebrating with us today, you have invested wisely and carefully in your students. And with support from dedicated leaders, teachers and parents, that means improved educational outcomes for students across America. Your graduates will impact their families and their communities in positive ways. You're proud of your students, and so are we.

So again, on behalf of everyone at the Department of Education, thank you for your extraordinary commitment to meeting the unique needs of your students every day.

Before we get to the honorees, I would like to take a moment to recognize Joe and Trish McTighe who are retiring from the Council for American Private Education. For 21 years, Joe and Trish have promoted this award by helping to identify and nominate National Blue Ribbon Schools. Thanks to their dedication and commitment, many private schools have been recognized each year as National Blue Ribbon Schools. Thank you, Joe and Trish, for your tireless efforts.

And finally, I appreciate all of you, I wish you the very best and I hope you enjoy your time in our nation's capital.