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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | Head of the Class

3 Schools Nominated for Prestigious National Award

November 21, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three Ventura County schools are up for one of education's top honors: the national Blue Ribbon award.

The nominees are Cypress Elementary School in Newbury Park, University Elementary School in Thousand Oaks and Oak Hills Elementary in Oak Park. The three are among 49 California campuses nominated for the coveted award.

"It knocked the wind out of me when I found out," said University Principal Beverly Grabe. "I couldn't even talk."

Schools are judged on student performance, parent involvement, teaching techniques and community partnerships. They are also evaluated based on their special-education programs and use of technology.

Principals say the application process is grueling and often takes months to complete. The schools have to first win the California Distinguished Schools award; then administrators must complete a detailed application.

"We thought the distinguished school was a huge process, and that application only had 10 questions," Grabe said. "This application had 43 questions. It was an amazing document."

State educators read the applications and nominate the top schools to the U.S. Department of Education. A national review panel will evaluate the applications in January, and representatives from the Department of Education will visit selected schools between February and April. The winners will be announced in late May.

"Because it's a national program, everybody knows what a Blue Ribbon school is," said Kimberly Edwards, a consultant at the state Department of Education. "It means excellence, it means a community pulling together, it means good leadership, and it means achievement."

The National Blue Ribbon School program, which originated in 1982, recognizes elementary and secondary campuses in alternate years. Fifteen Ventura County schools have won the award. Oak Hills won in 1992 and was eligible to reapply five years later.

Although the title does not come with any monetary awards, it brings prestige. The award helps attract teachers and corporate sponsors. A neighborhood with a Blue Ribbon school may also see its home values rise.

"It's an excellent selling point," said Kristine White, principal at Cypress Elementary. "[It lets] the parents know this is a wonderful school for students."

White said she believes Cypress was nominated because the school has quality teachers who make an extra effort to reach all students, including gifted pupils and those with learning disabilities. "It's very reaffirming to the hard work of the students, teachers and parents," she said.

Student Council President Kelsey Wellenreiter said the teachers push students to succeed. "I think we could win because we already have a smart school," the fifth-grader said.

Community spirit and support are what distinguish University Elementary, Grabe said. The computer lab, for example, was built with the help of parents and local businesses.

The Blue Ribbon award also counteracts negative perceptions about public schools, Grabe said.

"When something like this occurs, it supports the belief that our public schools are really doing well," she said.

Oak Hills Principal Anthony Knight said his school is unique because of its use of technology in the classroom. Students use the Internet for research, and they make presentations using computer technology.

"Our students are learning how to use the tools that most businesses are using," Knight said.

Although teachers and administrators at Oak Hills are excited about being nominated, Knight said they are not overconfident. "It's a long process, and we're just getting started," he said. "This is just the first hurdle."

Correspondent Katie Cooper contributed to this story.

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