Sara Kirby Star Center

Third-grader Sara Kirby gets some help on her schoolwork at Star Center Elementary School, which was recently nominated for a 2019 Blue Ribbon award for its success in closing achievement gaps. (File photo/Regional News)

BLOOMFIELD — Star Center Elementary School is one of eight Wisconsin schools to be nominated this year for an honor recognizing the highest-performing schools in the country.

The state Department of Public Instruction announced Jan. 24 that Star Center is nominated for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program based on the high marks the school earned on the state’s annual report-card assessments.

If Star Center earns the Blue Ribbon award, the school will be recognized as part of an exclusive circle that currently includes only three other schools in Walworth County.

“We were surprised — pleasantly surprised — and honored to be recognized,” Star Center principal Chiper Tennessen said.

School district superintendent Jim Gottinger added his congratulations to Star Center for the prestigious recognition.

“The board of education and myself couldn’t be prouder,” Gottinger said.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes schools across the nation for either exemplary academic performance or success in closing achievement gaps.

Star Center was nominated in the gap closure category, meaning the school’s report card indicated the school has improved its quality of instruction for all students, including those who struggle with academic performance.

“The staff will do anything for our students, and it’s reflected in the years of progress that we’ve made,” Tennessen said.

Star Center has about 430 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

This year’s Blue Ribbon nominees were selected last fall by then-state school superintendent Tony Evers.

Star Center and the other nominees are now invited to apply for the award by March 30 to the U.S. Department of Education. After reviewing the applications, the department will announce winners in September.

There is no limit on the number of Blue Ribbon winners — all eight Wisconsin nominees could win the award.

If Star Center wins, Tennessen and other school representatives will attend a recognition ceremony in November in Washington, D.C.

“I’m excited to get it filled out,” Tennessen said of the application. “And I’m pretty optimistic we’ll be going to Washington in the fall.”

The principal attributed much of the school’s recent achievements to the work of the Lake Geneva Joint 1 school district.

The schools of the district — including Eastview Elementary, Central-Denison Elementary and Lake Geneva Middle — have been collaborating in a strategic plan.

“In the past five years, we’ve put a big emphasis on literacy and math,” said Jan Eckola, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction. “We really felt it was important to strengthen our core instruction.”

As part of their strategic plan, district officials have worked with consultants in recent years to develop strong academic programs, offer more class options and promote positive social environments at the schools. As a result, the district’s schools earned high marks on their report cards, which in turn led to the Blue Ribbon nomination for Star Center.

“It’s wonderful when you can have a celebration like this,” Eckola said.

Tennessen went on to thank the school board, district administration and the staff at the other Lake Geneva schools for their part in earning the nomination.

Since 1982, the Department of Education has recognized more than 8,500 Blue Ribbon schools nationally.

Past winners in Walworth County are Williams Bay High School, Phoenix Middle School in Delavan and Washington Elementary School in Whitewater.

Thomas McCarthy, spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction, said the Blue Ribbon does not come with grant funding or other compensation, but the coveted award is prestigious due to its exclusivity.

“The award itself is designed to showcase the state’s best and brightest,” McCarthy said.

State School Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor commended the Blue Ribbon nominees in a public statement.

“Our nominated schools are making strides on closing achievement gaps and boosting student academic achievement,” Taylor said. “I wish these schools and their communities well in the next steps of this rigorous, national recognition program.”