Tablet Opinion

Small Fort Worth elementary receives well-deserved big honor

Nash Elementary, a small school housed in a historic building in a historic neighborhood just north of the Tarrant County Courthouse, sits on one of the most enviable sites in Fort Worth: a scenic wooded bluff overlooking the Trinity River.

The school itself dates back to 1893, when it was called the Ninth Ward School, and the current building — described by the Tarrant County Historic Resource Survey as “a handsome rendition of the Spanish Colonial Revival in brick and tile” — has been there for more than 85 years.

Over the years Nash has been threatened with closure because of the overwhelming amount of new development along the bluff and because of its small enrollment. It has 273 students this semester, much fewer than most elementary schools in the district.

Nash, which for years has served mostly economically disadvantaged students, has remained open not because of its historic edifice, but because of what has been happening in its classrooms. A group of dedicated teachers and administrators have performed what some would consider a miracle by creating a learning environment in which their young pupils excel.

Consistently, under the state’s former accountability rating, the predominantly Hispanic school received one of the top two designations: “exemplary” or “recognized.”

Today, a sign in front of the building declares it a “RECOGNIZED SCHOOL.” In 2006 it missed the exemplary rating by only one student and one answer on a standardized test.

Now Fort Worth’s tiny school on the bluff has caught the attention of folks in Washington, D.C.

It was recently named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, one of only 25 in the state and the only one in Tarrant County to be cited. Schools receive the citation based on overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among students.

In a letter announcing the award, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commended the Nash staff members for their commitment and achievements, noting, “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 continued, “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.”

In addition to the current principal and staff, the Blue Ribbon award also honors the school’s late principal, Pamela Day, a Chinese-American who had a special connection to the students, parents and community volunteers.

Day, who died last year of cancer, was a small woman with a giant spirit that was contagious. When she walked the halls or the grounds, bright-eyed students gravitated to her.

When Nash’s enrollment dropped further after the closing of the Ripley Arnold public housing units and the loss of single-family homes to development on and around Samuels Avenue, the school district opened the school to children from outside its attendance zone. Many downtown Fort Worth office workers were eager to enroll their elementary students in a school with high academic ratings.

Nash continues to flourish, and this latest accolade is further evidence that it is a gem of a school.

Charles E. Nash, the civic leader and hardware store owner for whom the school was named, would be very proud.