Parkside School, seen here on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, is located in Baileyton. (Nick Griffin for The Tribune)
BAILEYTON – April 2 was an exciting day for Parkside School, as it was named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence (BRSE). The school received the Blue Ribbon Schools Lighthouse Award, achieving excellence in all nine major categories of critical performance in excellent schools (Student Focus and Support; School Organization and Culture; Challenging Standards and Curriculum; Active Teaching and Learning; Technology Integration; Professional Community; Leadership and Educational Vitality; School, Family, and Community Partnerships; and Indicators of Success).
The award is only given to a few hundred schools across the United States annually, and Parkside Principal Richard Orr said he confident his school would stack up well when Blue Ribbon representatives came for the evaluation.
“I knew it was a prestigious award and hadn’t really thought much about it. I knew there were some schools in Cullman City had it and I hadn’t thought much about it and (Cullman County Schools Superintendent) Mr. (Shane) Barnette was wanting some schools to go through it. We were picked to go through on the second round and when they came out I knew based on the stuff they’d be looking for we’d do well because the teachers and the instruction they give out here is unbelievable,” Orr said.
“Our school is a great school and I couldn’t be prouder of the teachers and the education they give our kids out here and that’s what impressed the Blue Ribbon folks the most was the instruction in the classroom. It was also based on some surveys from parents, students, teachers and staff and what they saw when they came out here. It was the combination of feedback they got from parents and students and what they saw when they came. I’m just super excited and really, really proud of our teachers. Their hard work has paid off I guess, and it pays off with our kids and what they do,” Orr smiled.
Orr is in his seventh year as principal at Parkside and said in that time he’s seen investments in a personal learning environment pay off and fun new ideas bring his students together.
“There’s been a focus on small groups and focusing on what the kids need. We’ve done that since I’ve been here, but I think it’s nice to kind of bring to light the hard work that these teachers do. They put a lot of time and take a lot of pride in working with these kids individually.
“Some other things that we did change that I think kind of help some things that aren’t just academic but kind of related is our house system,” Orr said. “All of our kids are put into different houses kind of ‘Harry Potter’ style you know, because there was kind of a disconnect between our lower and upper grades so every kid in school is put into a house and they compete together, eat breakfast together on certain days and they sit together during challenges and stuff like that. It focused in on behavior, respect and just bringing the school together from top to bottom and I think that made a big difference. This is our second year of doing that; we thought it would make a big impact and it shows.”
Orr and the staff at Parkside are excited to see their efforts be recognized but they aren’t finished working yet, and they look forward to using this award as an opportunity to continue raising the standard.
“The nice thing about the Blue Ribbon is that they recognize you for your successes, but they also give you some ideas for new things to do. Even though you get the award, there are still areas to improve in,” Orr said. “They’ve given us a few ideas that I really like, and our staff really likes, that we can use to help our kids grow more. We’re not satisfied with the level of achievement they have yet; we know they can do even better and we know that we can do better so we’re going to take some of their suggestions and try to put them into place next year and see if we can make what I think is a great school a little bit better.”
The BRSE Program, according to its website, “is a comprehensive school self-assessment experience utilizing the Blueprint for Excellence with guidance and support from Blue Ribbon Recognized School Educators. The program assists all schools, with a special focus on low socioeconomic, culturally diverse, and low performing communities of learning in assessing the quality of their academic and instructional programs and in developing a school-wide action plan to ensure measurable student achievement. Additionally, BRSE supports effective comprehensive school reform through the development and implementation of a web-based Interactive Library of Best Practices, K-12. The BRSE Program develops and supports educational policies that improve student performance and enable comprehensive school reform. BRSE also provides a network of educators from nationally recognized Blue Ribbon Schools, as well as researchers, business leaders, philanthropists and government officials, which allows these individuals to exchange information and ideas.”
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