SOUTH FORSYTH — As the helicopter touched down in the playground Thursday at a south Forsyth school, students lined the windows, waving at the entourage from inside the building.
State School Superintendent Richard Woods visited Johns Creek Elementary to honor its students, teachers and staff for being named a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School.
The U.S. Department of Education recognized 335 schools throughout the nation as Blue Ribbon this year based on overall academic excellence and their progress in closing achievement gaps among subgroups.
“Our parents, teachers and students work so hard to make this K-5 experience the best it can be to set the best foundation for our students to be college and career ready,” said Principal Alyssa Degliumberto.
Woods visited classrooms, talking with students and teachers as Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden, the Forsyth County Board of Education and various local and state officials watched and asked their own questions.
Woods observed math and science classes, where students sat in small groups. Some were on computers. Others were writing on paper. Every student seemed to be attentive and engaged in their work.
Public and private elementary, middle and high schools are eligible for the Blue Ribbon program, which has presented more than 8,000 schools across the country with the award since 1982.
Johns Creek was one of just nine in Georgia — and the only one in Forsyth — to receive the honor in 2015.
Pinecrest Academy and South Forsyth Middle were named Blue Ribbons Schools in 2014, while Daves Creek Elementary was honored in 2013.
Big Creek Elementary and Otwell Middle schools have also earned the designation in recent years.
Degliumberto said a team of school staff members worked on the application last spring. It involved both academic and community pieces that, combined, showcased “what a great community our schools is.”
On Thursday, Woods visited the gym as a physical education teacher gave instructions. He stopped by an art class, where the teacher explained the project of the day. It involved purple paint and mountains.
Johns Creek, an 896-student school on Old Atlanta Road, was placed in one of two performance categories based on all student scores, subgroup scores and graduation rates.
An Exemplary High Performing School is among the state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
However, academic achievement is not the only measure of success for a Blue Ribbon School.
“I want our school to be thought of as one with students who have a high achievement and who work hard. We want our school to be known for students who have a strong work ethic, but, also, we build the whole child,” Degliumberto said.
“We work a lot of soft skills, so we have students who are empathetic, who have good morals and integrity and who are good to others.”
An assistant principal pointed to a new class called “7 Mindsets,” a soft skills class that teaches about giving and listening and loving.
Woods described a basis for Johns Creek receiving the award as having “a complete package.”
“Within the county it sets a bar. It says what can be. It shows what education can be when people and the parents and the school administration come together,” Woods said. “Teachers love to lead by example, and we have a clear example of what’s going well within our state.”
He added that he was impressed by the “high degree of professionalism” keeping students engaged.
“At an elementary school level to keep those little bodies focused and engaged,” he said, “means you’re doing something right.”