St. Gregory the Great Academy named national Blue Ribbon School

By Christina Leslie | Staff Writer,

National Honor

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., recognized the St. Gregory the Great Academy community for their 2014 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award at the Catholic Schools Mass Oct. 7. Pictured from left are Dr. Jason Briggs, principal; Father Michael McClane, administrator, St. Gregory the Great Parish; student Michaela Donnelly; Bishop O’Connell; student Lauren Frascella; and JoAnn Tier, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. Craig Pittelli photo

Fulfilling its mission statement to “empower students…. while pursing academic excellence and moral formation,” St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square, has been designated one of the nation’s Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence for 2014.

St. Gregory the Great was chosen as one of 337 schools nationwide, only 50 of which were private schools, to receive the designation from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a live broadcast announcement Sept. 30. The department will honor St. Gregory the Great at a recognition ceremony Nov. 10-11 in Washington.

“Achieving [Blue Ribbon] recognition involves a community of learners and leaders,” asserted diocesan superintendant of Catholic schools JoAnn Tier. “We salute Father Michael McClane, administrator, and Dr. Jason Briggs, principal, for their vision, leadership and goal setting to realize this achievement. The exceptional dedication of teachers to ensure student understanding and deep learning coupled with the commitment of parents for their involvement in the child’s education are applauded. This achievement mirrors the focused work of Catholic school educators as they prepare students to be faith-filled citizens contributing to our global society.”

The Blue Ribbon award recognizes schools for either exemplary high performance or great strides in improving achievement gaps. St. Gregory the Great, founded in 1965, touted its “authentically Catholic identity, the depth of its academic programs designed to serve students in a wide range of ability levels, the level of integration of technology into student instruction, the consistency of its standardized assessment results (with all current scores above the program cutoff, and its long-term financial and enrollment viability” in its 29-page application for the award.

Nominations for Blue Ribbon public schools are made by the top education official in every state and U.S. territory, or by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) in the case of private schools. The 2014 schools represent 47 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Dept. of Defense schools in Germany and Japan. They comprise 241 elementary schools, 25 middle schools, 48 high schools and 23 K-12 schools.

Thanks to social media, word of the Hamilton Square school’s award spread quickly. The school’s Facebook page and Twitter feed broadcast a picture of a maintenance man hanging the Blue Ribbon banner from a light pole mere hours after the official announcement was made. “It was a well-choreographed event,” recalled principal Dr. Jason Briggs. The educator chuckled as he related how his plan to notify the student body and staff went awry despite all his careful planning.

Shout it Out

St. Gregory the Great Academy principal Dr. Jason Briggs had Blue Ribbon award banners ready to adorn school property immediately after the Sept. 30 announcement. Photo courtesy of St. Gregory the Great Academy

“CAPE had notified me they were passing along the application back in January, but told me not to tell anyone because [the win] wasn’t definite,” Briggs recalled. “I had the banner printed up, and five days ago gave my maintenance crew a heads up to be ready to hang something.”

On Sept. 30, the principal gathered the school’s third through eighth grade classes in the gym, telling the teachers only that there was an important broadcast from the department of education they needed to view (kindergarten through second grade students were to view it in their classrooms.) “But there were technical difficulties on their end,” Dr. Briggs related, “and it didn’t broadcast. I had to tell everyone myself.”

The St. Gregory the Great community is planning a number of Blue Ribbon Award events to occur after the mid-November recognition ceremony in Washington that will tie into the school’s celebration of its 50th anniversary. A Mass of Thanksgiving and special lunch for the entire student body, as well as a catered luncheon for school staff is on tap, as is the printing of special St. Gregory the Great t-shirts emblazoned with the school name and Blue Ribbon for everyone at the school.

St. Gregory the Great is the fourth Catholic school in the Diocese of Trenton to be named a Blue Ribbon school in recent years. St. Ann School, Lawrenceville, was awarded the honor in 2010, while Princeton’s St. Paul School and St. Leo the Great School, Lincroft, both received the designation in 2012. St. Gregory the Great is one of 11 schools in New Jersey, two of them Catholic, to be recognized this year.

Dr. Briggs, now in his fifth year at the helm of St. Gregory the Great, was quick to deflect praise for the prestigious national award. “As I keep telling everyone, it’s about the children and the teachers,” he noted. “I told the students at the assembly, ‘You are the first to know about this award because it is all about the students and the teachers who teach them.’”

St. Gregory the Great Academy’s winning application is posted on the U.S. Education Department’s Blue Ribbon website

St. Gregory The Great Academy
2014 National Blue Ribbon School Profile

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