Baton Rouge Magnet High and Westdale Heights Academic Magnet, both high-performing magnet schools in the state capital, have once again earned the distinction of being National Blue Ribbon schools, the nation’s high school honor.

They are among eight Louisiana schools earning this prestigious national school award announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education, which began bestowing the honor in 1982. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced the 325 schools named this year — 302 public and 23 private schools nationwide.

This is the fourth blue ribbon for Baton Rouge Magnet and the second for Westdale Heights, which is better known by its acronym, WHAM.

Here are the other six Louisiana winners, all of them located in the New Orleans metro area:

  • Airline Park Academy for Advanced Studies in Metairie
  • Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans
  • Gretna No. 2 Academy for Advanced Studies in Gretna
  • Lake Forest Elementary Charter School in New Orleans
  • Saint Paul's School in Covington
  • St. Scholastica Academy in Covington.

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

"I am so proud of these schools' extraordinary performances in the face of tremendous adversity," said Cade Brumley, state superintendent of education. "I commend them for all of their hard work and congratulate them on winning this highly prestigious award."

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.

Both Baton Rouge Magnet and WHAM, which both have selective admissions requirements, are consistently among the top performing public schools academically in Louisiana. Baton Rouge Magnet High became a dedicated magnet school in 1976 and WHAM became one in 2004.

To be considered, a private school needs to show that its students perform in the 85th percentile or higher on a recognized standardized test.

Baton Rouge Magnet won blue ribbons previously in 1983, 2003 and 2015. WHAM won its previous blue ribbon in 2008.

Ben Franklin High in New Orleans' latest blue ribbon is its fifth. Last year Catholic High in Baton Rouge earned its sixth blue ribbon, the most of any school in the state.

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Schools that win can't reapply for at least five years.

Nan McCann is in her 20th year as principal of Baton Rouge Magnet High and three of those blue ribbons came during her tenure. She said this year's application was "completely different" than previous ones, focusing heavily on the 2020-21 school year, when half the school came in person and half the school learned from home.

"We had to show more about how we handled the pandemic, what we did different, how we taught differently, what our different strategies were for our teaching and for our students learning," McCann said.

McCann said Baton Rouge Magnet has been fortunate to retain high quality teachers even as other schools struggle on that front.

“That is what wins us the Blue Ribbon," McCann said. "Our faculty is just top notch, and our students they really do work hard.”

Alesha Cavanaugh, previously an assistant principal at Sherwood Middle, took over as WHAM's principal in January, replacing Castasha Edwards. Cavanaugh said completing the application for the award helped familiarize herself with her new school.

“There was a lot of reflection, a lot of what we did, a lot of what are we going to do to foster a learning environment, and it was a learning experience for me as well going through the process," Cavanaugh said.

She said the Blue Ribbon honor reveals the careful thought that WHAM faculty put into what they do.

"Our teachers do a good job of delivering high quality instruction, and they reflect on their instruction," Cavanaugh said.

WHAM plans to celebrate on Thursday — Baton Rouge Magnet is planning a celebration later in the year — with faculty and students all dressing in blue, as well as "blue treats."

“We want the kids to be able to enjoy it because they earned it," Cavanaugh said.


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