For more than 40 years, countless motorists have sped by Star Elementary on U.S. 60 in eastern Carter County without realizing something special and unusual was taking place inside the rather non-descript school building.
Well, now they know. Star Elementary is one of only five public schools in Kentucky— and the only one in northeastern Kentucky — to be named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School based on its overall academic excellence and its progress in improving student academic achievement.
What a tribute to the small rural school near Carter County’s line with Boyd County and what a feather in the cap for the Carter County School District, which has had its share of academic problems over the years.
Star Elementary Principal Charles Baker compared his reaction to the award to winning a 16th Region basketball championship, which he did in 1986 as the boys’ coach at East Carter High School. But it’s better than that.
“Being a part of a team that has been recognized nationally is something I’ve never been associated with,” Baker said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. It took a lot of work from the kids, staff and community.”
The Blue Ribbon award is just the latest recognition for what has been a steady record of improvements for Star. The elementary school has been named a Kentucky School of Distinction for the past two years as a result of its improving test scores. However, only 286 public and private elementary, middle and high schools in the country were selected as a Blue Ribbon School. That puts Star in rather exclusive company.
“Excellence in education matters and we should honor the schools that are leading the way to prepare students for success in college and careers,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan, who made the announcement of the Blue Ribbon Schools via video on the Internet. “National Blue Ribbon schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education.”
Star is the first school in Carter County, only the second school in northeast Kentucky, and one of only 40 schools in Kentucky since 1982 to receive the prestigious award. The now-closed Hatcher Elementary School in Ashland received the recognition about 10 years ago.
Baker said the credit for the achievement goes to a staff that simply has a passion for what they do. “We have a staff that loves to come to work,” he said. “That’s why I’m still at it and the staff feels the same way.”
As a coach, Baker said he knew a team was going to be good when they loved to practice. The same goes for the teaching profession.“When you love coming to work, good things are going to happen,” he said.
Second-grade teacher Lisa Hicks said the Star staff is like family and they are a group with a common goal of making sure each child achieves to his or her ability.
“I think also the kids know what’s expected of them,” she said. “We believe in them. The fact they know how much we believe in them gives them the confidence they need to be successful.”
Star only has 137 students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade, which makes it smaller than the Kentucky Department of Education prefers for elementary schools, but the small size and rural setting where everyone knows everyone obviously works at Star.
Baker, who has been the star principal since 1997, could have retired from education years ago. But he says coming to work at Star doesn’t seem like work at all.
Star keeps on achieving, despite budget cutbacks. Hicks said the school finds a way despite the obstacles.
“It’s like we’re the best-kept secret in Kentucky,” Hicks said. “It feels nice to be recognized.”
Monica Cline, who has been a first-grade teacher at Star for 11 years, agreed. “We treat the kids as if they were our own children,” she said. “We’re hard on them but we love them the same. I hope everybody realizes even though we’re a small school, we’re doing big things.”
The word is out. Because of the Blue Ribbon now on display at the school, people now know that good things are happening at Star Elementary. We congratulate the school, its teachers and staff and the students for earning this achievement. The small rural school has received the kinds of positive national recognition that few schools ever receive.