SWAMPSCOTT — Swampscott High School now occupies some “rarefied air” after receiving a national recognition only one half of one percent of schools have ever achieved, which the town celebrated in a Thursday morning ceremony.
Last fall, Swampscott was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education for its “exemplary” efforts to close its achievement gap, which refers to a disparity in academic performance between subgroups of students and shows in grades, standardized test scores and dropout rates.
Blue Ribbon Schools are honored in two performance categories, the other distinction being for “Exemplary High Performing School.”
The recognition was celebrated in a light-hearted ceremony in front of an auditorium full of students, teachers, administration and local and state elected officials at Swampscott High School.
In 2018, Swampscott High School was one of only three Massachusetts schools to earn the distinction. Of the nation’s approximately 132,000 schools, there were only 349 schools and 62 high schools to receive the award last year, or about .2 percent, according to Superintendent Pamela Angelakis.
Since the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon program started in 1984, only 8,500 schools have earned the award, which translates to one half of one percent of all schools in the United States, according to Assistant Principal Dennis Kohut, who will take over as the school’s new principal on July 1.
Since the program’s inception, only 108 schools in the state have received the award, according to Gov. Charlie Baker, a product of Swampscott Public Schools who was on hand to celebrate the achievement for his hometown.
“So, you are truly playing in rarefied air at this point and you should all be enormously proud of what you’ve achieved and what you’ve accomplished with this particular recognition,” Baker said. “I think the fact that this was done with closing the achievement gap … is a really big statement about the faculty, a really big statement about the kids, a really big statement about the culture and character of the school.”
Angelakis praised the “tireless efforts” and “unyielding dedication” of students, teachers, administrators and staff that went into receiving the designation, saying it was truly hard for her to put into words how proud she was.
The superintendent said the Blue Ribbon was a valuation of the work the district has been doing in recognizing the cultural difference in students and family engagement.
“It proves we’re not just teaching to the top tier students,” Angelakis said. “We understand how diverse our population is and our obligation to position every student for success.”
She singled out the efforts of Kohut and Lytania Mackey-Knowles, director of technology and digital learning who served as one of the school’s assistant principals last school year, for leading the school in a time of transition following the resignation of former Principal Robert Murphy.
Kohut also spoke of the resilient team at the school that “hung in despite tremendous challenges, referring to the constant turnover the high school has seen. When Kohut takes over for interim Principal Lawrence Murphy in July, he’ll be the fifth principal to lead the school in the past six years.
Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley spoke of his daughter’s special needs challenges that he was afraid would make school difficult for her. But rather than being bullied or picked on, as he feared may happen, Riley said that was far from the case.
His daughter loves school, something he attributes to her love for her teachers, who he said saved her and brought her to a place he never thought she could be. Blue Ribbon Schools are a reflection of that same type of relationship, a bond between students and teachers, Riley said.
State Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said despite how proud the state is about its education system, schools across Massachusetts continue to struggle to close the achievement gap. He said state leaders would do well to look at the innovative strategies employed by Swampscott High.
State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) told students to let the award be a clear example of what hard work and dedication can bring them for the rest of their lives.
The ceremony also featured remarks from student speaker Joe Varghese and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton’s (D-Mass.) deputy director Rick Jakious, and performances by the school’s Step Team, Dance Team and chorus. Students Joshua Badal-Rodrigues and Fiona Herring served as the masters of ceremony. Following the speaking portion of the event, the Blue Ribbon plaque and flag was unveiled in front of the school.