Alex Helwig grew worried when he heard Catholic High School was planning a school assembly Tuesday afternoon.
“I was wondering if we were in trouble or something,” the 10th-grader said.
“Then we saw the balloons and figured it was an award,” chimed in his friend, Byrne Kennedy, also in 10th grade.
Kennedy was right. Catholic High School was calling the students together to celebrate. On Tuesday, it was one of six Louisiana schools — four public and two private — named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.
Parkview Elementary, a public school, is the other school in Baton Rouge to win, for its first time.
Mandeville has two schools with new Blue Ribbons: Tchefuncte Middle School, a public school; and Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic School, a private school.
Tchefuncte Middle School is a first-time winner. Our Lady of the Lake is earning its second Blue Ribbon; its first was in 2004.
The other two Louisiana winners are Joseph J. Davies Elementary School, in Meraux, and Rosepine High School, in Rosepine, both public schools and first-time winners.
Catholic High is now a five-time winner of this prestigious honor. It is one of three schools in the country to receive this recognition that many times.
The award goes to schools that either are among the nation’s top performers or have shown significant progress in improving student achievement. In Catholic High’s case, its test scores during the 2012-13 school year placed it in the top 15 percent nationally in reading and math.
“Students, I challenge you to continue the excellence begun by the class of 2013,” Principal Lisa Harvey told the student assembly.
The U.S. Department of Education will honor 287 public and 50 private schools at a ceremony on Nov. 10-11 in Washington, D.C. Almost 7,900 schools have been honored since the federal agency gave out its first Blue Ribbons in 1982.
“Our students are just as smart and capable as any in the country,” state Superintendent of Education John White said in a statement.
Parkview Elementary is the 10th East Baton Rouge Parish public school to earn a Blue Ribbon.
It almost didn’t happen.
The A-rated public school was initially left off of the state’s nominating list. Under pressure from local lawmakers, state education leaders belatedly nominated the elementary school, blaming the delay on an “abundance of caution” springing from an unrelated audit involving high schools. The lawmakers argued that the delay was really an attempt to punish the parish school system, which has been at odds with the state on many issues and often brags about its Blue Ribbon winners.
The school had just two weeks to pull together the lengthy application, but the school was able to finish a day early.
Parkview is a neighborhood school but also has a large gifted program.
Carla Parks has been principal at Parkview for five years and spent 12 years before that on the faculty. Parks said working at a school that earned a Blue Ribbon has long been a professional goal of hers, but she gives credit to the school’s teachers.
“The teachers here, they go above and beyond the call of duty. They work after school, and on Sundays,” she said.