NEW PALESTINE — As New Palestine High School Principal Keith Fessler sat in his office at New Palestine High School with NPHS teacher Caroline Clayton, each basked in the glow of their recent trip to Washington, D.C.
The two went there on an all-expense paid visit for an official National Blue Ribbon award ceremony recognizing the school as one of the best in the nation.
“The whole thing really was a neat experience,” Fessler said.
“It was very affirming to learn we are doing a lot of things that are on the right track.”
The U.S. Department of Education named New Palestine High School as one of 312 schools in the country to earn the honor out of more than 138,000 schools.
Fessler and Clayton, who worked on the lengthy application process, represented the school and traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive a plaque and flag Nov. 12-13.
“To be around all those other people who had also hit the benchmarks to get there was really something,” Clayton said.
The Blue Ribbon Schools program annually recognizes the top schools in the United States by bringing attention to those with high academic standards or those who have shown significant academic improvement.
New Palestine High School earned the honor as a high performing school under the Blue Ribbon nomination process because students have scored well in English and math compared to national scores.
To qualify, the school’s standardized test scores in both English and math must be among the highest in the state and a school must meet the federal Adequate Yearly Progress benchmark for three straight years.
NPHS students passed both tests by a score that is 15 percent higher than the state average.
“Not very many high schools are able to do this because of the trending data,” Clayton said.
While Fessler and Clayton were in the nation’s capital picking up the award, many school officials, including students, watched it happen live online.
“One of our office ladies took a picture of everyone huddled around the computer watching it,” Clayton said. “They’re all a part of what we’re doing here.”
Fessler said he wished they could have taken all the students and staff to experience the honor.
As one of the few high schools to earn the national award, Clayton and Fessler said other high school administrators in the state and nation have already started to approach them to find out how NPHS operates. It’s welcomed attention, as far as school officials are concerned.
“We want people to pay attention to how good our school is,” Clayton said. “We have a great school. We have a great community, fantastic support from parents and great kids.”
With those building blocks added to motivated and dedicated teachers, Clayton said it has made for a successful environment.
“When you have teachers who work here for a long time, you learn new ways to communicate and help kids,” she said.
Fessler refers to it as a culture of excellence.
“There are some pretty high standards when you come into this environment,” Fessler said.
There will be no resting on their laurels, the educators said. Now the goal is to start focusing on where the school goes from here.
“If we just keep doing what we’re doing, then we’re not going to grow,” Fessler said. “But if we do what we do, which is to grow and meet the challenge, then we’ll be OK.”
School officials plan to share the plaque and flag with school board members during their December meeting before hanging the awards in a prominent place of honor at the high school.