Editor’s note: The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence. Every year the U. S. Department of Education seeks out and celebrates great American schools, schools demonstrating that all students can achieve to high levels. The coveted National Blue Ribbon School award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.

This year, five Iowa schools have received the Blue Ribbon designation: three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school.

Today we feature St. Ansgar High School in the St. Ansgar Community School District. We asked Principal Lynn A. Baldus, who has been the principal for the last 11 years, her thoughts on becoming a Blue Ribbon School.

School: St. Ansgar High School, St. Ansgar Community School District
Student population: 171
Percent of students in lower socio-economic status: 25%   
Town: St. Ansgar

Were you surprised to be named a Blue Ribbon School?
Yes, we were so honored and excited to receive the nomination. Everyone here works very hard, and we are always analyzing our data to see what we can do better. This is just how we do business. To be recognized for our efforts is an incredible honor.  

Is your school doing something cutting edge? What is it?
Our Family Time program was created by one of our staff members. The name came from our students. We focus specifically on social-emotional learning every week, but it is more than just a curriculum that attributes to our success. We work hard at building relationships with our students and our community, set high expectations for our students and ourselves, focus on our standards, adjust what we are doing based on our data, and try to provide the support each individual student needs to be successful. 

We’re a small school in a small community. We know our students, and we have high expectations for them. We can ask a lot of our students, because they know we won’t give up on them.

What other factors would you say contributed to your school’s success?
Family is the foundation of everything we do. That means we don’t give up on anyone. Ever. 

Family members challenge each other. Family members struggle. Family members suffer and celebrate, but they don’t do it alone.

That’s a little cliché, and it’s awfully vague for the hard-evidence world of education, but it’s the truth. Any success we have as a district is because we don’t give up on each other. We fight for each other. Administrators fight for their teachers; teachers fight for their students; and we push students to fight for themselves and each other.

It’s not easy, but it is simple. Treat everyone who walks in the building with the same love and respect one would give to a family member. That perspective changes things. It creates accountability. Family is family whether we like it or not. There’s no passing the buck. Everyone is accountable. Everyone is part of the family.

There’s no magic bullet, no long-sought-after miracle intervention that creates such a culture. It’s in everything we do.

Describe your philosophy in delivering a quality education to your students.
Our district mission statement states, “Fostered by a cooperative effort between the St. Ansgar District and the community, our mission is to provide the highest quality education in a secure, positive, and challenging environment, empowering all students to reach their full potential.” 

This mission statement summarizes my philosophy very well. We succeed by adhering to the following:

  • We can accomplish so much more when we partner with our families and our community. 
  • I continuously strive to provide our staff with the materials and training that they need to deliver the highest quality education to our students. I am blessed to have an excellent staff comprised of people who are committed to doing all they can for our kids.
  • In order to learn, students need to feel safe and know that someone cares.
  • We need to set high standards for our students and hold them accountable.
  • We meet kids where they are and do all we can to help them learn, grow, and be successful in life.

What does this honor mean to you, your team and your community?
Receiving the National Blue Ribbon Schools award is an incredible honor. It recognizes the tireless efforts of our students, our staff, and our community, and it validates the hard work they do each and every day.

I am a proud graduate of St. Ansgar High School. My husband and I taught in the district, and our children graduated from here. I have had the privilege of serving as the middle and high school principal for eleven years now. This is my second home and my second family. I cannot express how incredibly excited and proud I am that we were selected to receive this award.

Our students show up every day and are committed to their learning. Our teachers and staff make an even bigger commitment to our students. I witness the daily sacrifices they make to help kids grow and succeed both academically and as human beings. There is no extra compensation and no awards for what they do – just a lot of heartfelt “thank-yous.” These are people committed to making a difference in the world through their work with kids. They act with love and never give up. This award is an acknowledgment of the incredible work our staff does and a validation they are doing an excellent job.

While our high school has been selected to receive the National Blue Ribbon Schools award, this achievement reflects on our entire school system. This would not have been possible without the strong foundation established in our elementary and middle school, nor without the support of our families and community. 

This award is truly a reflection of the hard work and commitment to learning by our students, staff, families and community. We are incredibly honored and grateful to receive the National Blue Ribbon Schools award.