The federal government heaped praise on PS 66 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in Richmond Hill last week, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan naming the institution that has been a community mainstay since the 1890s as a National Blue Ribbon School.
“So many of America’s educators work so hard to guide their students to the future they need and deserve,” Duncan said in a video. “It’s incredibly exciting to call out some truly remarkable schools… These great American schools earned this recognition because their students are achieving at the highest levels in their states or because their students are making outstanding improvements in their levels of academic achievement.”
One of 286 schools across the nation, including three in Queens, to be given the prestigious Blue Ribbon designation, PS 66 was also feted by City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
Walcott said the six city schools that landed the federal recognition were to be commended for their “all-around academic excellence and their success in preparing students for college and careers.”
PS 221 in Little Neck and PS 46 in Oakland Gardens were also designated as Blue Ribbon schools.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools program recognizes schools in one of two performance categories. The first category lauds those that are recognized among their state’s highest performing schools, as measured by state assessments or national tests. The second category honors schools that have at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds demonstrate the most progress in improving student achievement levels as measured by the same tests.
“Excellence in education matters, and we should honor the schools that are leading the way to prepare students for success in college and careers,” Duncan said in a prepared statement. “National Blue Ribbons Schools represent examples of educational excellence, and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education.”
PS 66 Principal Phyllis Leinwand said she and the entire school community were thrilled by the news, and she sent a letter to the students’ families about the announcement.
“We are proud that PS 66 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School has been named a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School,” Leinwand wrote in the letter, in which she thanked parents for their “continued support and for being partners” with the school to “reach this historic occasion.”
PS 66, along with the other 285 schools, will be celebrated at a ceremony slated for Nov. 18 and 19 in Washington D.C.
Named the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2001, PS 66 was landmarked in 2011 and historians, civic leaders, legislators and educators alike have all stressed the rich history of the school that was built in 1898.
Built at a time when the city education system was undergoing a massive transformation because federal law had recently mandated that all children be educated, PS 66 admitted its first class of students in 1901. At the turn of the century, the school educated many children of German, Italian and Irish immigrants – many of whom knew the school building as a huge brick castle with a bell tower that would toll to call the pupils from their farms to class.
The school has gone on to educate a countless number of students – many of whom hail from far-flung countries around the world.
By Anna Gustafson