Flying high

Manhattan Elementary School students let a cluster of blue balloons loose to celebrate the raising of the Blue Ribbon School flag Wednesday. State Superintendent Denise Juneau was on hand to celebrate the event.

Manhattan School has absolutely made Montana proud.

That’s the message a staffer from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s office told Manhattan Elementary School staff and students at a special ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

Shannon O’Brien, Bullock’s Education Policy Adviser, lauded the school on behalf of her boss who could not attend the Blue Ribbon Award ceremony. O’Brien echoed the world of Manhattan Elementary School Principal Scott Schumacher and Superintendent Jim Notaro.

“This is a big deal,” O’Brien said to a crowd in the school’s gymnasium. “It really is a big deal and the governor is very proud of you.”

Last year, Manhattan was the only Montana school to earn the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Award. Schools nominated for the accolade must be in top academic standing for several years before being considered for the award.

In addition to making adequate yearly progress, a federal standard tethered to increasingly difficult No Child Left Behind standards, Principal Schumacher had to submit mounds of paper to receive the honor.

Manhattan Parent Teacher Organization President Roseanne Kruse put the achievement into perspective.

“There are over 88,000 elementary schools in the USA,” Kruse said. “Only 286 got a Blue Ribbon Award.”

In Montana, there are 827 elementary schools. Manhattan was the only to receive a Blue Ribbon nod in 2013.

In an emotional speech, Schumacher lauded the parents who put their kids to bed early, the students who scored well on tests, the teachers who attended countless meetings to learn best teaching practices, the paraprofessionals who take lunch money and call parents when kids are sick and the rest of the school staff that keep the place running.

“I’m really proud of the way we do things here,” Schumacher said. “…It’s a big deal. That’s why we’re here today.”   

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau also spoke at the event. She talked about the merits of strong public schools.

“Quality public education means everyone has the opportunity to succeed,” Juneau said. “That’s something you at Manhattan Elementary are taking very seriously.”

After the speeches, elementary school teachers were presented with blue-collared shirts adorned with the Blue Ribbon emblem. Excited students then filed outdoors with a blue helium balloon in hand.

Notaro gave a brief speech outside and raised the American flag and a new Blue Ribbon flag before students released their balloons in one elated gesture.  

As snow drifted around t-shirt clad kids, teachers shook hands and doled out hugs. Schumacher looked on proudly, breaking his view of the sky to congratulate his staff.

“Every time you look at the flag, you will see those balloons,” Schumacher said. “That’s something the kids and everyone else will remember for a long time.”