East Austin’s Blackshear Elementary was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon school on Tuesday.
Blackshear was the only school in Central Texas and one of 28 in the state to earn the award from the U.S. Department of Education this year. Every year, the agency recognizes schools nationwide that were among their state’s highest performing schools on standardized tests and graduation rates, or most successful in closing the achievement gap between traditionally high- and low-performing students over the past five years.
“I’m so proud of my staff and students. This honor is possible due to everyone working day in and day out for the good of our students who walk through our front doors each morning,” principal Betty Jenkins said in a statement. “The collective efforts from our students, parents, faculty and all our volunteering organizations are making Blackshear not only an academic center of excellence, but a fine arts center filled with enrichment as well.”
Since the Blue Ribbon Schools program started in 1982, 41 Austin schools have earned the distinction. The last recognition was three years ago for Graham Elementary School.
The Texas Education Agency nominated Blackshear in January along with other schools whose student population was at least a quarter low-income.
Almost three-fourths of Blackshear’s students are low-income and 86 percent are either Hispanic or black.
In 2014, the school became the district’s first elementary school fine arts academy. While most of the day is focused on traditional academics, teachers integrate creativity and artistic expression into the lessons. The last part of the day is set aside for a particular fine arts strand, including orchestra, ballet, photography and art. Professionals in the field provide their expertise to the students.
Ninety-four percent of its students passed all subjects of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams last school year.
Transforming the campus from a traditional elementary into a fine arts academy was done in part to help boost enrollment at the school, which is about half full. While still under-enrolled, the school grew by 39 percent to 307 students over the past two years.
Representatives from Blackshear and the 334 other public and private schools that won the award this year will attend a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9 and 10.