Blue Ribbon schools saluted by state Board of Education

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, far right, poses with the principals of the five schools that received the National Blue Ribbon Award and members of their parish staffs. From left are principal Cornelius Begley, St. Leo the Great School, Lincroft; principal Carol Bathmann and assistant principal Elizabeth Tonkovich, both St. Dominic School, Brick; Francesca Laugelli, eighth-grade teacher in St. Jerome School, West Long Branch; Filippini Sister Angelina Pelliccia, St. Jerome School principal; Joan Tagliaferro, seventh-grade teacher in St. Jerome School; principal JoAnn Giordano, St. James School, Red Bank; principal Robert Dougherty, St. Catharine School, Spring Lake, and Msgr. Harold Cullen, pastor of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish.

The elation sparked in October by the announcement that five schools in the Trenton Diocese were named 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools showed no sign of abating Dec. 5, as each was formally recognized for the achievement by the state Department of Education.

“It’s amazing,” said JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, who noted that of the 349 schools throughout the nation that received the distinction, only 49 are nonpublic schools.

“Nationwide, that is one-tenth of the schools named, and five of those schools are in the Diocese of Trenton. It’s tough to even compete,” Tier said. “And when you think of all that has gone into this honor, it’s amazing. Just an amazing achievement.”

The annual recognition ceremony drew scores of educators and administrators from public and nonpublic schools from around New Jersey to Trenton. There, a range of awards – from State Teachers of the Year to Blue Ribbon Schools – were presented by Dr. Lamont O. Repollet, state commissioner of education.

While the mood was definitely upbeat throughout the room, excitement was palpable in the rows occupied by the 15 representatives from the schools in the Diocese that were honored: St. Catharine, Spring Lake; St. James, Red Bank; St. Jerome, West Long Branch; St. Leo the Great, Lincroft, and St. Dominic, Brick. The give schools were among the 10 total nonpublic schools in New Jersey to be honored.

Prior to the ceremony, the schools were asked to compose a brief narrative describing what qualified them for the honor. The narratives, read as the certificates were handed out, included St. Dominic’s, which stressed its “cutting edge learning environment,” fueled by an ongoing commitment to the most up-to-date research and development and implementation of the best new methods and technologies.”

St. Leo the Great, which received the distinction for the second time since 2012, shared that “as a nonpublic school,” its continued success is “enhanced by the strength and support of our stakeholders,” which is reflected in their investments in a new STEAM wing, providing a challenging curriculum and reaffirming “our commitment to Catholic values…”

JoAnn Giordano, principal of St. James School, explained that each school was asked to bring an item reflecting the essence of it community. At the Red Bank school, that was a fleece jacket in the school color – green – with its motto – “Faith Honor Excellence.”

“The fleece represents the warmth and safety the children feel” at school, said Giordano, and the commitment to faith, honor and excellence that they encounter there.

Giordano said recognition by the NJ Department of Education was an affirmation “of the academic accomplishments our school has earned. It also affirms that the NJ Department of Education recognizes Catholic schools as educational institutions that are invested in educating future scholars and innovators.”

The National Blue Ribbon School Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, is now in its 36th year. It recognizes schools as either exemplary high performing schools or exemplary gap closing schools. The high honor is traditionally greeted with festive celebrations in the schools and major recognitions including the annual November awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., presided over by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The State Department of Education’s Recognition Ceremony, now in its sixth year, is another observance that generates enthusiasm said Dr. George Corwell, who represents Catholic schools for the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

Corwell, who accompanied representatives from each of the 10 Catholic schools being recognized to the podium, said he was “pleased to see that so many nonpublic schools – particularly Catholic schools – from New Jersey were named.”

In his remarks, Repollet commended all the public school and nonpublic school honorees for their part in guiding New Jersey’s 1.4 million students in “life-changing ways.”

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