A bright orange sign with the word “recognized” is brandished across the front of Fort Worth’s. Nash Elementary School.
Serving economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the heart of the city, the elementary school of 273 youngsters regularly achieved “recognized” and “exemplary” ratings under the state’s old accountability system.
The school has now kicked its academic status up a notch by being named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, the only school in Tarrant County and one of 25 statewide to receive the designation in 2014.
Schools are given the award based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups, according to the Department of Education.
Nash Principal Blanca Galindo and other school district officials received news of the award in a Sept. 30 letter written by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“Schools like yours demonstrate that, with effort and dedication, schools and classrooms can be great places where students engage in the kind of complex and creative thinking necessary in a global economy,” Duncan wrote. “By empowering every child to become a lifelong learner and engaged citizen, you and your colleagues are creating the leaders of tomorrow. Your example is a powerful inspiration to other educators.”
Teachers at the school at 401 Samuels Ave., just northeast of downtown, say they owe much of their success to former longtime Principal Pamela Day, a Chinese-American who led the school until her death in April 2013 of a rare form of cancer.
“She knew how to be a leader of instruction,” said Isabel Rendon Petta, a fourth-grade teacher at Nash who has taught at the school for nine years. A leader of instruction guides, supports and trusts her staff, she said. That’s what Day did.
Sonja Reyes, who has taught at the school for 26 years, said the school has been able to instruct children from all walks of life.
“It’s been about a high expectation of behavior and academics,” said Reyes, who teaches math and science to third-graders. “It doesn’t matter where the child is coming from, their nationality or economics. Every child is capable. A child is a child is a child.”
Another component of the school’s success has been its parent and community volunteers. Last year, parents and others organized a golf tournament that raised more than $3,000 to purchase iPads and computers for the classroom, said Duy Nguyen, a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Nash.
“We’re a family,” Nguyen said. “It’s not just the teachers; it’s everybody, it’s the kids, the parents, the grandparents. We’re in it to have these kids be successful.”
A total of 82 percent of students at the school are economically disadvantaged, records show. Almost 70 percent of students at the school are Hispanic; 21 percent are African-American; 5 percent white; 4 percent two or more races; 1 percent Asian. About 38 percent are English language learners.