NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Two Northwest Arkansas schools are among five in the state to be recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2020, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Thursday.

It’s the highest honor a school can receive from the department, and it’s based on a “school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.”

Saint Joseph Catholic School (Diocese of Little Rock) in Fayetteville and Bernice Young Elementary School (Springdale Public Sch. District) in Springdale were among those to earn the distinction.

“Congratulations to this year’s National Blue Ribbon School awardees,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “It’s a privilege to recognize the extraordinary work you do to meet students’ needs and prepare them for successful careers and meaningful lives.”

According to the department, schools are recognized in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, student subgroup scores, and graduation rates:

  • Exemplary High Performing Schools – These are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
  • Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students.

Up to 420 schools may be nominated each year.

St. Joseph is the first nonpublic school in the state of Arkansas to be a repeat winner of this award.

An online celebration is planned for St. Joseph for Friday, October 16 at 2:30 p.m. on Zoom. State and local dignitaries will share their congratulations as will faculty and staff of the school.

According to Rick Schaeffer with the Springdale School District, students at Bernice Young in Springdale were watching the announcement, knowing they’d been selected as a finalist.

Of the approximately 1,200 schools in the state of Arkansas, only 54 public schools and four nonpublic schools have received the award in the 38-year history of Blue Ribbon.

The other three schools in Arkansas to earn the award this year include: Crawford Elementary (Russellville School District), Eudora Elementary (Lakeside School District), and Jefferson Elementary School (Little Rock School District).

The 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony will be held virtually Nov. 12 and 13 due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

There were 317 public and 50 non-public schools honored this year.