Vidalia Junior High receives Blue Ribbon for academics

Published 12:23 am Thursday, September 17, 2009

VIDALIA — The school gymnasium fell silent Wednesday morning as Vidalia Junior High School Principal Whest Shirley made an announcement.

“When I drove up this morning, my campus had been vandalized,” he said. “There were blue ribbons everywhere.”

Ribbons were wrapped around school poles and hung over classroom doors, and helium-filed balloons floated from wherever they could be tethered.

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Panning his eyes across the students, Shirley said, “I need a name. We’re not leaving here until we get one.”

After a couple of awkward moments, a teacher stepped forward, then another and another.

And so the joke — which Shirley was in on — broke.

The ribbons and balloons were decorations to celebrate the school’s official status as a blue ribbon school, a federal designation.

The criteria for blue ribbon schools are to either score in the top 10 percent of the state in state testing, or for schools with more than 40 percent disadvantaged students to have significant improvement to high levels on state tests. The designation also requires schools to meet yearly progress goals in reading and mathematics.

VJHS was one of seven schools in Louisiana and 314 schools nationally awarded the blue ribbon designation this week.

The designation comes because of work between teachers, staff, students and parents, Concordia Parish Academic Director Paul Nelson said.

“This is definitely a team effort, and one you should be proud of,” he said.

“These (blue ribbon) schools serve as models for other schools across the country.”

The journey to blue ribbon status started years ago, and Shirley said he not only credits the students, parents and teachers, but also the businesses in the community that have partnered with the school.

“This is not just an accomplishment for VJHS, but for the city of Vidalia,” he said.

But as he dismissed the students back to class, Shirley said it was time to buckle down and start preparing for this year’s testing.

“We are not going to ride on the memories of the past,” he said. “We are going to get better.

“That’s our goal — to bring home the blue every year.”

In a release from State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek’s office, he said all of the Louisiana schools that received the designation deserve congratulations.

“All of these schools are classified as high poverty, and yet they are beating the odds,” Pastorek said. “The administrators, teachers, staff, students and families in these school communities are to be commended for their outstanding effort and success.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander and Sen. Mary Landrieu also released statements congratulating the school.

Shirley will attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in which he will be presented with a plaque and flag in recognition of the school’s blue ribbon status.