Wantagh High School was honored to receive the 2020 Blue Ribbon Award from the US Department of Education. US Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos recognized 367 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools in a virtual ceremony held November 12 and 13. The Blue Ribbon Award is an honor that “separates schools from the pack,” according to Mr. Pappas in an interview with The Warrior. It identifies schools that have made great progress, have high graduation rates, use cutting edge approaches to instruction, and are consistently successful.
There are two categories in which a school can win the award: consistent high-level achievement or demonstrating growth. Wantagh was honored in the former. The category for demonstrating growth, titled “Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing,” looks at schools that may not have the means of other schools, but have made the greatest advances in closing subgroup achievement gaps. Schools in the “Exemplary High Performing” category have student achievement in English and Math in the fifteenth percentile of their state and their state’s highest graduation rates. This is the second time Wantagh has received this distinction, the first being in the 1997-1998 school year. We were also honored in the “Exemplary High Performing” category then. It is rare for a school to win multiple times. Wantagh’s ability to do so shows that we have always strived for greatness and are continuously improving, as described by Mr. Pappas. He also stated that our work to improve does not stop at this award and that we must continue to change and grow.
Why does Wantagh deserve the Blue Ribbon Award? Mr. Pappas discussed how over the course of many years, Wantagh has had passionate staff members that “love their students more than their subjects.” Wantagh has a student-centered approach to learning, and the staff tackle each situation the school faces together. Mr. Pappas described a “collective approach to instruction,” and stated that the professional culture has been this was for a long time in Wantagh.
Dr. Guzzone also noted that our achievement is also attributed to the community and its heavy involvement and support of the schools. He stated that partnership with its community is just as important to a school as its staff. Dr Guzzone also believes that the Blue Ribbon Award is really a district wide award, not just a reflection of the high school. If Wantagh did not have strong elementary and middle schools, we would not be able to be a Blue Ribbon High School.
Both Dr. Guzzone and Mr. Papas highlighted that the school’s entire staff deserves credit, not just our teachers. Every member is integral to the school community, and we would not have received this honor without our astounding security, clerical, and custodial staffs. Additionally, he emphasized the credit due to Mrs. Brivogel and Mr. Brown, who retired at the end of last year.
To continue to uphold the standards of a Blue Ribbon High School, Wantagh must continue to make progress and move forward. Dr. Guzzone said that we are not “in the cement.” He described looking at data for coursework and performance and constantly seeing what changes need to be made. The school must be consistently evolving and looking at trends and student interest. We need to enhance what we do well and improve on what we don’t.
Mr. Pappas shared one of his favorite sayings, a quote by Jim Collins. “Good is the enemy of great,” Pappas stated. He elaborated, describing how if we stay “good,” we will never improve, how being “good” keeps us in a state of stagnancy. He discussed the school providing professional development for staff, thus giving teachers opportunities to grow and implement new practices in the classroom.
With Wantagh’s supportive community, its collaborative efforts, and its educational approach, hopefully our district can continue to strive for greatness.