Just try wiping the smile off principal Ryan Coleman’s face — his Amherst Junior High School has been recognized as one of the 335 best in the nation.
To put that in perspective, there are roughly 98,800 public schools and 30,860 private schools across the United States.
That’s a grade worthy of an A followed by a lot of plus signs.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan listed the seventh- and eighth-grade building on Milan Avenue as a recipient of the National Blue Ribbon for Schools for 2015.
The award goes to schools based on overall academic excellence and progress in helping all students achieve, regardless of socio-economic class, race, or disability.
“We’re excited. It’s something I’ve always told the teachers, that they make this a very special place,” Coleman said. “Everybody in the building works together to make this a very special experience for the kids. This is proof of the good job they do.”
“I think this award is a direct reflection of the community of Amherst.”
AJHS staff didn’t go looking for a Blue Ribbon.
The Ohio Department of Education weighed the merits of thousands of schools. Only the top 14 were recommended to the federal government’s Blue Ribbon program.
“They said Amherst Junior High has something special going on and they contacted us,” said Coleman.
What followed was an extensive application process detailing curriculum, methods used by teachers, test scores, indicators of academic success, the way staff share assessment results, school culture, ways in which families are engaged in learning, leadership, professional development, and more.
“They get into the climate, the tone. That’s almost more important than report cards,” Coleman said. “I’m very lucky to be here. We have our issues. We have our problems. But overall we have a great junior high experience for our kids. We’re fortunate to be here and work with these kids.”
Helping to draft the application was gifted teacher Katie Wohlever, who will travel with Coleman to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9 and 10 to meet Duncan and be recognized in a ceremony at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
There’s also a possibility President Barack Obama will pop in for a visit.
A Blue Ribbon is exciting, but there is still room for improvement, Wohlever said. “We don’t want to sit back and rest on our laurels,” she told the News-Times.
In Washington, she plans to ask other award-winners for tips and trade strategies.
Each of the 285 public and 50 private schools to receive the Blue Ribbon will receive a plaque and a flag to take home.
“Please know that everyone in this building is proud to work here and passionate about what takes place on a daily basis. This isn’t just a job. It’s a home for those of us who work here,” Coleman said, echoing Wohlever. “We don’t take this Blue Ribbon as a sign of perfection. We take it as a sign we are doing good things and are going to continue to work hard to improve every day.”
He said the award is a credit to all staff members from custodians and secretaries to teachers and kitchen workers.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Katie Wohlever teaches her class at Amherst Junior High School, which has been recognized as a model for success by the U.S. Department of Education.