Acequia Madre Elementary named National Blue Ribbon School

·3 min read

Sep. 16—Blue glitter rained over students and teachers at Acequia Madre Elementary School on Friday, as cheers broke out when Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Larry Chavez announced that the school was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School.

"This recognition is hard to receive," Chavez said in an interview. "So, it really shows that Santa Fe Public Schools is doing great things, not only in our community, but throughout the school."

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona broke the news early Friday morning, but school officials tried to keep it under wraps until the big reveal, though they didn't shy away from leaving hints.

Principal Dietger De Maeseneer said the school treated its teachers with "a lot of subtle blue hints," such as blueberry muffins.

During recess, teachers and students filed into the school's gymnasium to hear the announcement, before getting to head out to the playground.

"It is obvious all the staff and all the students that are before me, and all the parents, have really contributed to this award," De Maeseneer said.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education's National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes schools for their academic achievements or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

"I applaud all the honorees for the 2022 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award for creating vibrant, welcoming and affirming school communities where students can learn, grow, reach their potential and achieve their dreams," Cardona said in a news release.

"As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will only be as strong as the education we provide to all of our children," Cardona continued. "Blue Ribbon Schools have gone above and beyond to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional and mental health needs. These schools show what is possible to make an enduring, positive difference in students' lives."

Administrators said Acequia Madre Elementary School has a history of high academic standards thanks to its creative arts curriculum and ability to engage with students and families. Some of the way the school does that is through its garden, which is tended by parents and students.

The school has also made strides in sustainability and environmental awareness by using solar panels, which generate roughly half of its needed power.

"You walk in this school, and you feel the love," said Kathy Casaus, district assistant superintendent and Acequia Madre's former principal. "You feel the excitement; you feel the students taking ownership of their learning."

Acequia Madre Elementary School was one of only three schools in New Mexico to earn the honor this year, and only the fourth ever in Santa Fe.

Schools are nominated by their state's top education official; New Mexico Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus who nominated Acequia Madre Elementary in late 2021.

Under former Gov. Susana Martinez's administration, the New Mexico Public Education Department gave the school "A" ratings for three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ended this grading system after taking office in 2019, which critics said often gave poor ratings to schools with high numbers of minority children, English-language learners and kids from low-income families.

During the 2021-2022 school year, the school had the highest science proficiency rate in the district at 77 percent and had the third-highest math proficiency rate at 63 percent.

Every year, up to 420 schools are nominated to become a National Blue Ribbon School; this year Cordona gave the honor to 297 schools from across the country, including the Albuquerque School of Excellence and Texico Middle School. Piñon Elementary School received the honor in 2020 for its efforts to close achievement gaps, Wood Gormley Elementary School received it in 2017 and the New Mexico School for the Arts was the first to be honored in the city in 2016.

These schools were given a Blue Ribbon School flag as a symbol of the school's exemplary teaching and learning.