Hollis Primary School wins national Blue Ribbon award

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hollis Primary School has been named a National Blue Ribbon School, one of 286 schools across the country to be recognized for its excellence. Two other New Hampshire Schools also earned the award: Newfields Elementary School and Linwood Public Elementary.

Principal Liz Allen and three staff members, kindergarten teacher Dennis Kane, third grade teacher Sue Caron and reading specialist Heather Nelson, traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the award during a ceremony on Nov. 19.

“We got to see and talk to so many other people who truly understand what it means to be an educator in today’s world,” Caron said. “There were people from very different places coming together with the common denominator being that we are all here for the children.”

Allen explained the lengthy process involved in being nominated for a Blue Ribbon award. It began a year ago, when New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry nominated Hollis Primary as a candidate for the Blue Ribbon award.

“Each state can nominate so many schools for academic excellence or achieving growth over a span of time,” she said. “From last November to mid-February, we worked on the application process, including five years of data, about 15 essays that demonstrate our school’s commitment to excellence in teaching. It’s quite a process. The application packets are due in February, but you are not notified until September because they wait for Annual Yearly Progress data. You can fill out all the paperwork, but if you don’t make AYP, you won’t win.”

Allen credited her staff with handling the tremendous effort involved in the application process, particularly media specialist Judy Schivanoff, science teacher Nicole Tomaselli, math teacher Susan Giles and third grade teacher Matthew Ostrowski, who served as editor for all the essays.

“It was a full-year process,” Allen said. “I can look back and say, ‘Thank goodness we did all that work,’ because it’s important for the staff to be recognized for all they do each and every day.”

After being notified in September that the school had won the award, Allen had to figure out who would accompany her to the ceremony. Each staff member was allowed to nominate two colleagues to attend, and the top three vote-getters were selected.

“What’s amazing to me, as much as it was such an honor for the school, is the fact that we were chosen by our colleagues to represent the school,” Nelson said. Kane said he enjoyed hearing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan address the gathering at the awards ceremony. He also enjoyed the slideshow of Blue Ribbon Schools that was presented.

“You saw a lot of diversity, but a lot of common themes,” he said. “You saw good educational practices being used throughout the country, yet any of those pictures could have come from our school.”

For Caron, a major highlight of the event was watching Kane and Allen dance across the stage to collect the school’s award.

“The woman running it said it was an award that should be celebrated, and if the spirit moved you, go ahead and dance, so they danced across the stage,” Caron said.

Back home in Hollis, there is now a banner in the main hallway that proclaims “National Blue Ribbon School,” and a special plaque to hang in Principal Allen’s office. The celebrations will continue throughout the remainder of the school year, including a state dinner with Barry in December, and a community-wide celebration being planned for spring.