The Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science was announced Tuesday as one of 335 schools nationwide and three in Alaska named the 2015 National Blue Ribbon Schools.
The annual recognition, awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, is based on rigorous criteria that outline the academic strength of an institution and it’s students. Kaleidoscope is the only charter school in the state being honored and one of 15 in the country.
Kaleidoscope Principal Robin Dahlman cited the final sentences of the school’s summary as the best way to describe why the award is being granted the award.
“Kaleidoscope engages the whole child to nurture creativity, critical thinking, deeper understandings, intellectual habits of mind, and ultimately, to become life-long learners,” she read aloud Wednesday. “Real-world problem solving and the pure joy of learning lie at the heart of Kaleidoscope’s approach. At Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Sciences everything offers a lesson, for there is always more to learn.”
Upon receiving the news this week, Dahlman snuck into the school after hours Tuesday evening to pepper the walls and doors with blue ribbons. She made a public announcement the following morning.
There are no monetary rewards or remarkable mementos that accompany the Blue Ribbon accolade, save for a plaque and a flag set to be hung inside the building, Dahlman said. Rather, it is a reminder and salute to the quality instruction provided by the school’s teachers and retention of their students, she said.
“We are very proud of Kaleidoscope and what they are doing for students in our district,” said Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek in a press release. “The staff, students and parents should be commended for all of their hard work to make this school such a wonderful place for kids. Congratulations and keep up the great effort.”
Individual schools that teach grade Kindergarten through twelfth grade are invited by the U.S. Department of Education to apply each year after receiving a nomination from the Chief State School Officers, which are appointed by the state board of education.
Sites are selected and solicited out of the pool of 130,000 schools nationwide, and more than 500 in Alaska, Dahlman said.
Kaleidoscope is the tenth school in the school district to be named a Blue Ribbon school, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.
Dahlman said she submitted a 31-page application highlighting the school’s configuration, philosophy, curriculum, instruction, leadership pieces and community connections among many other factors that “provide a narrative summary of indicators of academic success.”
“It affirms every day that we are doing the right thing,” Dahlman said.
There were 285 public and 50 private schools recognized as Blue Ribbon in 2015. Each had to meet one of two major eligibility criteria that proved they were an Exemplary High Performing or Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing school, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Kaleidoscope is a gap closing school.
The achievement gap educators and staff address successfully on a daily basis is significant, said the school’s Academic Policy Committee Chairperson Diane Bernard, and a parent at the school for the past seven years. Kaleidoscope incorporates the arts and science into all subjects, and handson approaches to learning are often utilized, she said. Parent volunteers are always invited and plentiful, and community members are often brought in to teach lessons, she said.
“To be honest they deserve that award,” Bernard said. “They set their standards high for the children,” Bernard said.
Dahlman had to submit the proficiency rates of students from the last five years to make sure annual measures of progress are met by the entire population, but in each subgroup as well. Between 80 and 100 percent of the students are proficient in Language Arts and Math, she said. The data had to also prove that not only are students meeting standards, they are continuing to excel and improve as they move through the different grade levels, she said.
Bear Valley Elementary School in the Anchorage School District and Mat-Su Career and Technical High School in the Mat-Su Borough School District were the other two Alaskan schools to receive the award this year.
Dahlman will travel to Washington D.C. on Nov. 9-10 to accept the school’s flag and plaque with two of the school’s founders from when it was started in 2004.
“This honor recognizes your students’ accomplishments and the hard work and dedication that went into their success,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Duncan was quoted as saying in a department of education press release Tuesday. “Your journey has taught you collaboration, intentional instruction, and strong relationships in school and with your community. You represent excellence—in vision, in implementation, and in results—and we want to learn as much as we can from you.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.