desk stock file photo school

The cafeteria of West Jefferson High School is allowed to have 25 students at a time in the configuration seen during a tour showing coronavirus precautions of the campus in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. If a divider is installed in the cafeteria, 50 students will be allowed in the room at the same time. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Two Baton Rouge Catholic schools, Catholic High and St. Jude the Apostle, are among 10 Louisiana schools named National Blue Ribbon Schools, the nation’s highest such honor.

This is the sixth Blue Ribbon for Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, the first time a school has received the award that many times in its 38-year history. 

There are 367 Blue Ribbon schools across the nation this year. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced the names at a news conference held at noon Thursday.

Catholic High took to Facebook soon after the news broke: “We are humbled and grateful to our amazing students and faculty who continue to strive for excellence in education. Bravo!”

Catholic High has won this honor almost every time they have had the chance — in 1988, 1992, 1997, 2003, 2014. Current rules require winners to wait five years before they can reapply.

"This is the first time this group of students has won this," noted Principal Lisa Harvey. “It’s just a standard of excellence that we really strive for." 

She said Catholic High in recent years has expanded its offerings, especially in engineering while retaining a variety of programs it's already known for. But she said her faculty deserve special praise.

"We've got dedicated faculty that really view this as a ministry," she said.

To be considered, a private school needs to show that its students perform in the 85th percentile or higher on a recognized standardized test. Even though only 50 winners each year are private schools, four of that group this year are from Louisiana and all are Catholic schools. It’s a strong showing for Catholic schools in the Pelican State.

This is the first Blue Ribbon for St. Jude the Apostle. Principal Michelle Gardiner, who is in her fourth years at the helm, credited students, parents and faculty at St. Jude for achieving the honor.

"It’s a combination of all of us working together to make this happen," Gardiner said.

Often winners will hold assemblies to celebrate, but the ongoing coronavirus outbreak made that difficult. St. June is planning an outdoor assembly on Oct. 2, but the school is celebrating as best it can in the meantime.

"There are blue balloons floating around. Today the students are getting blue suckers, special blue stickers," Gardiner said. "We’ve got Blue Ribbon snacks — a bunch of different candies all in the shade of blue.”

Of the six public school winners, three are from Vermillion Parish. None are from public schools in the capital region.

“This national honor speaks to the high expectations and student-first cultures you will find at all of these schools," State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley said in a statement. "I'm proud to have them represent Louisiana and congratulate them on this remarkable accomplishment.”

Schools are nominated by their respective states; applications are submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for consideration.

Public schools can earn Blue Ribbons in two ways: if they are among the top performing schools in their respective states, or if they have shown substantial progress in closing the achievement gap between all students and historically low-performing subsets of students, such as racial minorities and those living in poverty.

This year's winners are invited to a virtual ceremony held Nov. 12-13 to accept their honor. Each of the winning schools will receive their plaques and flags in the mail.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.