Oak Trace Elementary in Westfield has earned a National Blue Ribbon Award. Photo provided
Oak Trace Elementary in Westfield has earned a National Blue Ribbon Award. Photo provided
WESTFIELD - Oak Trace Elementary School in Westfield was recognized today as a National Blue Ribbon School.

Not only is it the elementary's first time to receive the award. It's also Westfield Washington Schools' first time for the achievement.

"It's quite an accomplishment and honor," said Robin Lynch, Oak Trace's principal.

"I am so proud of this great accomplishment for our students, parents, and staff," she told The Times on Tuesday after the national announcement by Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education.

"This honor recognizes your students' accomplishments and the hard work and dedication that went into their success," Duncan said in a video message to the awardees, which the students watched Tuesday afternoon. "Your journey has taught you collaboration, intentional instruction, and strong relationships in school and with your community. You represent excellence - in vision, in implementation, and in results - and we want to learn as much as we can from you."

Westfield is one of two schools in Hamilton County to receive the designation; the second school is Our Lady of Mount Carmel private Catholic school, which is one of 50 private schools to receive the award.

Duncan recognized 335 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2015 based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. These schools demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels. The schools represent public and non-public elementary, middle and high schools, including traditional, charter, magnet schools, parochial and independent schools in 45 States, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools.

The Department of Education will honor all 285 public and 50 private schools at a recognition ceremony Nov. 9-10 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Two representatives - one principal and one teacher - are invited to attend the ceremony from each school. Lynch and Oak Trace teacher Jeni McAndrews will represent Oak Trace. They will receive an award plaque and a flag as symbols of the school's accomplishments.

Lynch said Oak Trace has a group of about 12 teachers and some spouses who are traveling to Washington, D.C., in November. They will get to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and tour the Pentagon and the Capitol.

"We have a very special school family," Lynch said. "Everyone works very hard, and we support one another in every way. Our teachers and staff work diligently to connect curriculum in a meaningful way for students so that they enjoy learning and coming to school each and every day I feel very fortunate to be a part of such an amazing learning environment and school family."

While it's the school district's first time being designated a National Blue Ribbon school, it's not Lynch's first time to receive the award. "I also received it at my previous school in Lebanon, Ind.," she said.

In its 33-year history, more than 8,000 of America's schools have received the coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools award.

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 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 content. The National Blue Ribbon School flag gracing an entry or flying overhead is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.