14 NJ Schools Earn National Blue Ribbon Award

September 16, 2011

 When principal Sister Maureen Fichner learned her pre K-8th grade school in Westfield had earned the national blue ribbon award for excellence, she excitedly told the teachers — but held off saying anything over the loudspeakers.

"I wanted to be able to announce it to the parents and let them be surprised, you know?" Fichner said today, referring to back-to-school night at Holy Trinity Interparochial School.

Fourteen New Jersey schools — half of them private Catholic schools under the Newark Archdiocese — earned the designation, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday. A total of 256 public and 49 private schools were named National Blue Ribbon Schools.

"These schools have demonstrated what is possible in education," Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement.

The archdiocese spent a year identifying high-performing elementary schools eligible to apply — including Holy Trinity, St. John the Apostle School in Clark and Our Lady of the Lake School in Verona — and guiding them through the process, said Barbara Dolan, an assistant superintendent. It was the first time in recent years the diocese made a concerted effort. The Council for American Private Education, which nominates private schools, put forth the seven Catholic schools out of 11 New Jersey private schools that applied.

"This is something we’d been hoping for," said Monsignor Kevin Hanbury, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools. The seven public schools that won the award are in Essex, Union, Hunterdon, Bergen, Passaic and Monmouth counties, including the Tewksbury Elementary School in Califon, New Providence High School and Watchung School in Montclair, which also won in 1990 and 1994. The state Department of Education was limited to making nine nominations, but submitted eight schools.

Another winner was the Terence C. Reilly School No. 7 in Elizabeth, where nearly 1,000 students in pre-K and grades 2-8 gathered with faculty and staff today for the announcement.

The school has a track record of continual improvement in test scores, said principal Jennifer Cedeño, which is a result of rigorous instruction, teamwork, data analysis and setting goals for students.

"We call ourselves the Reilly family," she said. "All of the teachers brought in confetti and ribbons — all in blue — and we threw them up in the air. It is something we have been talking about for a number of years, a dream, a goal we had aspired to."