When students at Blue Valley’s Mission Trail Elementary School in Leawood gathered recently in the gym, they thought they were there to take a group picture. After all, that’s what principal Debbie Bond had told parents in her message to them.
What they didn’t expect was Bond’s surprise announcement: that Mission Trail Elementary had been selected as a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School.
“We are so excited and grateful,” Bond said. “In our education world, it’s better than the Super Bowl.”
Mission Trail was the only Johnson County school given the honor and one of five schools in Kansas. The U.S. Department of Education gave the Blue Ribbon School distinction to only 286 schools nationwide.
Schools are nominated for the award by a statewide committee of school administrators, staff members from previously honored Blue Ribbon schools and representatives of the Kansas National Education Association, the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals.
The award recognizes elementary and secondary schools in two categories. Schools with at least a 40 percent economically disadvantaged student population who show significant improvement on math and reading assessments are eligible for the award. Mission Trail Elementary received the award in the second category, which includes schools that score in the top 15 percent of the state on math and reading assessments, regardless of demographics.
“I am very proud of our school community,” Bond said. “The Blue Ribbon award isn’t why we do what we do, but this is a great recognition of the personalized learning we do at our school each and every day.”
Personalized learning for Bond means making sure every staff member in her building is helping every student learn to the best of their abilities. To accomplish this, Bond uses a professional learning community approach. Grade-level teams meet for an hour each week to look at how instruction is working in the classroom. As Bond puts it, if you are a third-grade teacher at Mission Trail, you are ultimately responsible for all third-graders not just your individual class.
“I told the teachers that this award does not surpass the connections you make with students every day,” Bond said. “Our goal is to reach every child each and every day.”
Bond said the application for the award was intensive and looked at many areas, including student achievement data for the last five years, questions about curriculum, instruction, community involvement, professional development for staff and student involvement in both in and out-of- school activities.
Bond also attributes the school’s success to how closely Mission Trail parents and teachers work together.
“We have a dedicated staff, we have amazing kids and we have community support that is unbelievable,” Bond said.
Receiving the National Blue Ribbon School award this year is made even sweeter by the fact that Mission Trail is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Bond said that students were just as excited as the teachers when they heard their school received the award. During Bond’s surprise assembly, they got a chance to share their own thoughts about their award-winning school.
“Each student was given a blue ribbon cutout and they wrote down why they thought Mission Trail is a blue ribbon school,” Bond said. “So many of them wrote that it was because of the great teachers and great kids.”
Bond will travel to Washington, D.C., or a Blue Ribbon School recognition ceremony Nov. 18-19. The school will host a recognition ceremony of their own with students and school district officials in December.