Discover the Difference: Blue Ribbon Schools

by Diocese of Des Moines | October 9, 2020

Saint Francis School students


Every year, the U. S. Department of Education seeks out and celebrates great American schools through its National Blue Ribbon program. For nearly 40 years, the National Blue Ribbon program has recognized both public and private elementary, middle and high schools based on overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. This award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content. Schools may only apply every five years for this prestigious designation.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, a school in West Des Moines serving 650 students in grades PK-8, was among six Iowa schools recently named a National Blue Ribbon School for 2020. The elementary school was nominated for exemplary high performance, a designation reserved for schools that are among their state’s highest-performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. This is the second time the school has been recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. 


"St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School strives to develop learners for life through faith, knowledge and service," said Jon Aldrich, school administrator. "This commitment to fostering a high-quality education while encouraging creative expression and critical thinking, is consistently demonstrated by our high standardized test scores of 89-92% proficiency in reading and math respectively."

Students at St. Francis are equipped with leading-edge technology with 1:1 use of Chromebooks in middle school classrooms, and SMART TVs, iPads, and Chromebooks in elementary classrooms. Additionally, the school boasts a newly renovated media center, technology lab, STEM lab, and creative use of space equipped with flexible seating and screens for virtual conferences and field trip. 

"As a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, our goal is to foster a high-quality education while encouraging creative expression and critical thinking," added Aldrich. "We strive to incorporate new and innovative technology to enhance our curriculum as well as keep our students engaged and prepared for the future."

To meet the needs of diverse learners, St. Francis of Assisi offers a student support team that works to improve academic achievement for all students through individualized assessment and interventions. The school also employs use of the Dyslexia Barton Reading Program.

While the school excels in academics, it also shines in areas not measured by the National Blue Ribbon program. St. Francis of Assisi students exhibit a strong connection with Catholic faith and dedication to social responsibility. Outreach to the less fortunate is fostered through monthly mission projects and St. Francis of Assisi's middle school students contribute over 3,000 service hours to the community every year.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, along with all 367 schools receiving Blue Ribbon designation for the 2020-2021 school year, will be honored by the U.S. Department of Education during a virtual ceremony on Nov. 12 and 13.  

"I am so very proud of all of our diocesan schools for their pursuit of continuous improvement, innovation, and growth that empowers students to maximize their potential and use their gifts to serve God and others," said Donna Bishop, superintendent of schools. "Blue Ribbon designation is just one way in which our schools are recognized for their fidelity to excellence in education."

Since 2001, five diocesan schools have been named Blue Ribbon Schools: Sacred Heart Catholic School (2001), Dowling Catholic High School (2003), St. Augustin Catholic School (2004), Holy Trinity Catholic School (2008), and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School (2014). Schools can reapply for the designation after five years. 

The Diocese of Des Moines Catholic Schools includes 16 schools in 23 counties in central and southwest Iowa. Catholic schools in the Des Moines Diocese build Christ-centered, collaborative, inclusive partnerships with parents, students, and parishes to provide innovative academic excellence and inspirational faith formation for students.

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Diocese of Des Moines

The Diocese of Des Moines, created in 1911, serves people over a 12,446 square mile area in the southwestern quadrant of Iowa, including 23 counties.