Two diocesan schools earn National Blue Ribbon status

GREENVILLE/MOUNT PLEASANT — The color blue may represent sadness in songs and poetry, but for the Diocese of Charleston’s school system, blue is the color of joy.

National Blue Ribbon status was awarded to two more diocesan schools for 2009. St. Mary in Greenville and Christ Our King-Stella Maris in Mount Pleasant received official notification Sept. 15 from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the festivities began.

St. Mary celebrated by inviting former Secretary of Education Richard Riley to an impromptu assembly where he addressed the crowd and Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor, gave a prayer of thanks, said Sister Mary John Slonkosky.

The Dominican sister, who took the helm as principal this year, said the students were also treated to snow cones.

“I went ahead and had a blue one in honor of the award,” she said, laughing lightly.

Sister Mary John credited the administration over the past several years for the school’s success. She specifically mentioned Sisters Veronica Janas and Anna Grace Neenan, who is spending a year in Rome to continue her studies.

She also praised the faculty and students, whose test scores contributed to the blue ribbon designation.

At Christ Our King, students and staff were treated to a surprise assembly where they were greeted with helium-filled blue balloons and donuts with blue sprinkles, said Jean Moschella, principal. By the end of the week, she said blue ribbons were everywhere.

“This community works together in a way that I haven’t seen before,” Moschella said while talking to The Miscellany about their success. “There’s an atmosphere here of a dedication to education.”

A total of 314 schools nationwide received the blue ribbon award, including seven in South Carolina, according to Sue Dowd at Christ Our King. Of the total number, only 50 are private or parochial schools, she said.

Christ Our King and St. Mary joined St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach and St. John Neumann in Columbia, which received the award in previous years. Blue Ribbon designation is good for five years, at which time the school may reapply.

In an e-mail to The Miscellany, Sister Julia Hutchison, diocesan superintendent of education, praised the success of the four schools and said more will soon follow.

Blue Ribbon awards recognize public and private schools that meet one of two criteria:  students either score in the top 10 percent on state or national tests, or show dramatic improvement in achievement with at least 40 percent considered low-income, non-native English speakers or migrants.

All four diocesan schools met the first criteria.

The schools will receive a plaque and a flag at the Blue Ribbon Schools awards ceremony scheduled for Nov. 3 in Washington, D.C.

Sister Mary John and Therese Gallivan from St. Mary will attend, and Moschella and Debbie Mallaney will represent Christ Our King-Stella Maris. Gallivan teaches history, literature and geography in the middle school, and Mallaney is a middle school math teacher who helped prepare the application.