‘INCREDIBLE ACCOLADE’: Harris Elementary recognized among the top schools in the country


GREENFIELD — Harris Elementary School in Greenfield was recognized as one of the most exemplary schools in the nation this week by the U.S. Department of Education, which declared Harris to be a National Blue Ribbon School.

“Being a National Blue Ribbon School is an incredible accolade,” said Harold Olin, superintendent of Greenfield-Central Schools. “In fact, it is the highest honor that a school can receive.”

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed almost 10,000 honors to more than 9,000 schools over the past 38 years, according to the Department of Education. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

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“The Blue Ribbon distinction affirms the hard work of educators, families, and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools, where students master challenging and engaging content,” the department said in a release. A total of 317 public and 50 non-public schools nationwide received the award.

Harris Elementary was among eight Indiana schools to make the list. Principal Sarah Greulich shared the news with faculty and staff at the end of the school day on Thursday.

“We’re all very excited,” said Greulich, who took over at Harris in 2019.

It quickly became apparent that she was working somewhere special.

“As I got to know this staff, I saw that they are just the embodiment of excellence in education,” she said. “That’s why this (Blue Ribbon) designation is such an honor for the staff, because they work so hard to cultivate and develop relationships with our students, our families and each other.”

Having eight Indiana schools make the list this year is on par with the state’s strong performance in years past, Olin said.

“Historically, Indiana generally has seven to eight public schools that are honored each year,” he said.

Greenfield-Central Schools alone has had three national Blue Ribbon schools in the past five years — Weston Elementary in 2016, Eden Elementary in 2017 and Harris Elementary in 2020.

“This places our corporation in an elite group that has achieved this,” Olin said. “The greater Greenfield community should be very proud.”

Megan Long, a kindergarten teacher at Harris, said the school received the Blue Ribbon distinction due to a well-orchestrated team effort.

“It is a result of the supportive leadership among the administration and staff, as well as the strong culture created through the community at Harris,” said Long, who was named the school’s Teacher of the Year last year.

“Every day you can see administrators, counselors, teachers, instructional assistants and other support staff going out of their way to put students’ needs first to reach students academically and emotionally,” she said.

Kristin Fewell, who has been teaching at Harris for 44 years, said there’s a mutual respect there among faculty, staff, parents and students.

“We are a family, and we have always stood as one. You can feel the camaraderie as you walk the halls. We have been through good times and bad times, and we always have each others’ back,” said Fewell, who also commended the school’s leadership over the years.

“Harris has always had great leadership. Each principal in his or her own way made us better teachers and helped us grow,” she said.

“Over the past 44 years, there have been significant changes in education, and at Harris we have always been family. We treat our students as if they are our own.”

Greulich credits the principals who came before her for setting the school on the right path to success, such as her predecessor, Jan Kehrt, who led the school from 2007-19. Kehrt is now the principal at Sugar Creek Elementary School in New Palestine.

“There’s so many people who have retired or moved on who have helped lay that foundation for what a successful school should look like,” Greulich said.

Harris strives because it’s leaders and staff work together to provide the best educational environment for kids, she said.

“My staff members are excellent,” Greulich said. “They are hard working, passionate, dedicated people. I told them that Harris has achieved great things because we do not work in isolation. We trust each other, we have shared values and hold each other accountable. We work hard and strive to be our best, each and every day.”

Greulich said the one practice that has likely motivated staff members the most is their weekly professional learning sessions. “Once a week, we intentionally come together to look at all of our available data and information, and we talk about how our students are making progress, what their needs are and how we meet those needs,” she said.

“We look at what we’re doing well and what we need to do better. It’s that foundational piece that has really helped us take those next steps toward excellence.”

Olin, who served as principal at Harris from 2003 to 2005, can attest to the staff’s dedication at the school.

“The Harris staff has inspired our students to perform at high levels for many years, and it is good to see this type of recognition. I attribute the student successes to the solid relationships that our staff members build with our students,” he said.

“I will assert that the Harris staff has the biggest heart for kids that I have ever seen. Every decision they make goes through the filter ‘what is best for kids.’ A lot of educators say those words. The Harris staff fulfills them each day.”

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Each year, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes top-performing schools throughout the country by granting them the distinction of Blue Ribbon Schools.

Now in its 38th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed almost 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools, with some schools winning multiple awards. Winning schools are eligible for re-nomination after five years.

Schools are ranked in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, student subgroup scores, and graduation rates:

–Exemplary High Performing Schools, which are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.

–Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools, which are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students.

The Department invites National Blue Ribbon School nominations from the top education official in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education. Private schools are nominated by The Council for American Private Education.

The following Indiana schools were recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools this year:

–Boone Meadow School, Zionsville Community School District, Whitestown

–Cedarville Elementary, East Allen County School District, Fort Wayne

–Harris Elementary, Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, Greenfield

–Herron High School, Herron Charter Classical School District, Indianapolis

–Ireland Elementary, Greater Jasper Consolidated School District, Ireland

–Kolling Elementary, Lake Central School Corporation, Saint John

–North Salem Elementary, North Salem School District, North West Hendricks

–Speedway Senior High School, Speedway Schools, town Of Speedway

The 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony will be held virtually Nov. 12 and 13.

Photographs and brief descriptions of all 2020 honorees can be viewed at: ed.gov/nationalblueribbonschools