The Manhattan School District received some good news Tuesday afternoon. Elementary School Principal Scott Schumacher learned that his students test scores earned his school the only Blue Ribbon Award in the state of Montana.

The Blue Ribbon awards are handed down from the U.S. Department of Education. This year, 286 schools across the nation earned the coveted award. To qualify for the Blue Ribbon, schools must show exemplary scores on state and federal tests.

For the last eight or nine years, Manhattan Schools Superintendent Jim Notaro said the elementary school students have made adequate yearly progress, a benchmark increasingly difficult each year under No Child Left Behind standards.

“Making AYP doesn’t come without a lot of dedication,” Notaro said. “I’m very proud of the teachers and proud of the kids and proud of the school.”

Schools that win the Blue Ribbon Award have to show “exemplary improvement,” meaning students from disadvantaged backgrounds must demonstrate progress on state and national tests each year.  

This was the first year Manhattan Schools missed AYP standards. Overall, the schools did very well on the math and English tests. A small subset of students, kids taking free or reduced lunches, did not score in the top percentile.

“In the elementary district, we have enough kids for the free and reduced lunch sub-group,” Schumacher said. “We made it in junior high. The elementary school did, too. The district did not.”

Schumacher said he was worried that missing the mark, even by a hair, might affect the school’s chance at securing the Blue Ribbon award.

But U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the winning schools on the department’s USTREAM channel Tuesday.

“I was very happy, elated,” Schumacher said. “We were the only school in the state to get it this year.”

Schumacher credits his elementary school success to a strong staff and important programs being well implemented in the building.

“I chalk it up to a good staff,” he said. “I’m talking certified, paraprofessionals, janitors, everyone. We work hard to not let kids fall between the cracks.”

Years ago, Schumacher convinced a former superintendent to give him money to hire a literacy teacher. The teacher has repaid the district in students’ improved reading and comprehension skills, Schumacher said.

There will be a two-day ceremony in Washington, D.C. on November 18 and 19 to honor the winning schools. Schumacher will attend the recognition ceremony. Notaro said he will also fly out for the festivities, even if he has to pay his own way.   

Duncan is slated to address the winners at that ceremony.

“Excellence in education matters and we should honor the schools that are leading the way to prepare students for success in college and careers,” Duncan said Tuesday. “National Blue Ribbon schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education.”