Louise Carhart, Community
Davis Elementary School, a local public institution serving Grinnell third and fourth graders, recently became a National Blue Ribbon School. This honor came directly from the United States Department of Education and has been awarded to about 7,000 schools as of 2013. The award serves as recognition of the amount of work faculty and staff have put into improving Davis, in terms of academics and student experience.
“There’s only about 330 schools [awarded the designation this year], so it’s a pretty significant award and we’re proud of our school for achieving that,” said Jeff Kirby, principal of Davis Elementary.
The National Blue Ribbon designation is awarded to schools that have made significant progress in improving learning gaps where at least 40 percent of students are classified as disadvantaged. This recognition is especially poignant for Davis, as just five years ago they were facing major problems.
“We were designated as a school in need of assistance five years ago and through that process it really brought to light some areas that we needed to work on to improve … It really created a sense of urgency,” Kirby said.
Faculty and staff had to identify these areas and address them, as well as respond to student needs. Teachers and other faculty took on roles beyond those of educators and worked to improve the holistic experience for students.
“I feel that our staff is responsive to student needs, not only academically but socially as well,” Kirby said. “We spend a lot of time looking at student data and talking about students and talking about how we’re meeting those student needs and what we’re doing to ensure they’re improving.”
Kirby is adamant that prizes do not come to define Davis or the work it does. Instead, he advocates for a more student-centered approach, where awards are not expected but appreciated when they come.
“[The faculty and staff] do it because they genuinely want to help kids and they love teaching and they love doing what’s best for families and students,” Kirby said. “I think they view this award as an affirmation of a lot of the hard work they do.”
In the end, Kirby hopes that this award will allow Davis to continue on its trajectory and stay academically and socially strong in the future. He puts emphasis on implementing sustainable, lasting change to ensure success for his students that will persist ever after his tenure as principal.
“It isn’t contingent on one person being here – what we do, we’re doing because it’s what’s best for kids. As a system, we believe in it,” Kirby said.