Four schools in Baton Rouge, three private and one public, have been named Blue Ribbon schools of excellence, the nation’s top school honor.

One of the Baton Rouge schools, St. Joseph’s Academy, has won the honor for the fourth time.

St. Joseph’s Academy celebrated Wednesday afternoon with song, starting with Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” and ending with a rendition of the school’s alma mater. Faculty and staff made a dramatic entrance into the school gym at the all-girls Catholic school as they danced a New Orleans-style second line. As they marched in, they tossed blue strips of fabric to a sea of girls dressed in their bright red school uniforms.

“We are so proud that our SJA colors of red and white are now wrapped in a big blue ribbon,” said Cora Barhorst, student body president.

This year, nine Louisiana schools — six public and three private — are among the 329 schools across the country receiving special sky-colored ribbons bestowed annually by the U.S. Department of Education. The awards were first given out in 1982. This is the second year in a row the Capital City has produced four Blue Ribbon schools.

Three of the four Baton Rouge ribbon-winners this year are Catholic schools: St. Joseph’s Academy is joined by first-time winners St. George and St. Thomas More elementary schools.

The other Baton Rouge school receiving a blue ribbon is charter school Madison Preparatory Academy, a high school that opened in 2009. It was nominated for the honor in January, along with five other public schools, by Louisiana education leaders.

The only Blue Ribbon in the greater New Orleans area is going to John Clancy/Joseph Maggiore Elementary School in Kenner.

A recognition ceremony for the new Blue Ribbon schools nationwide is being held Nov. 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C.

The other four Louisiana Blue Ribbon winners are Avoyelles Public Charter School in Mansura; Anacoco High School in Anacoco; Sixth Ward Middle School in Thibodaux; and North DeSoto High School in Stonewall.

The new list was released officially Wednesday at noon, though winning schools have known for days and were sworn to silence.

St. Joseph’s Academy, which is 148 years old, previously earned Blue Ribbons in 1991, 1996 and 2002. Principal Michele Lambert declared its fourth ribbon a “four-peat.”

Lambert, who took over as principal in 2015, shared credit with her predecessors, including immediate past principal Linda Harvison, and noted that the private school has long been known locally for academic excellence.

“Now, as of noon, the rest of the country knows it as well,” Lambert said with a smile.

The celebration continues Thursday with students getting free ice cream and brownies, and not just any brownies, but Sister Agatha’s much loved brownies, said Mindy Averitt, school spokeswoman.

To win, Baton Rouge’s three Catholic schools had to have test scores in the top 15 percent in the nation in reading and math.

“We just have a strong program of studies in Baton Rouge. This is an indicator of how that permeates Catholic schools throughout the diocese,” said Melanie Verges, superintendent for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

Madison Prep, a B-rated school, earned its Blue Ribbon thanks to strong academic growth on standardized tests. The school, which has about 500 students, is also notable as one of the only growing high schools in north Baton Rouge, an area that has seen schools close over the past few years.

Dujan Johnson is executive director of CSAL Inc., the charter school group that oversees Madison Prep. The high school grew out of a still operating middle school, CSAL, which is one of the original three charter schools in Baton Rouge. Charter schools are public schools run by private groups via contracts, or charters.

Johnson noted that CSAL — Community School for Apprenticeship Learning — is homegrown and not run, as are many charters schools, by large management groups located in other cities.

“This was truly due to the efforts of our children and our families and that’s what makes it most rewarding for me,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he plans to formally share the good news Thursday, and to hold a bigger celebration in the near future.

Blue Ribbon winners like Madison Prep have to wait until November’s recognition ceremony before it receives its official ribbon and plaque. Johnson has an idea to speed up that process.

“I’m going to have some banners up before we even get to that point,” Johnson said.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier