Washington Elementary School in Whitewater has been named a National Blue Ribbon School for its academic success, particularly in the area of closing achievement gaps for minority and low-income students.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the award winners Thursday.

The award makes Washington one of 341 public and private elementary, middle and high schools across the nation where students reach high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap, according to a news release from the Department of Education.

In her announcement, DeVos described the teachers and administrators in the winning schools as “visionaries, innovators and leaders.”

“You have much to teach us. Some of you personalize student learning; others engage parents and communities in the work and life of your local schools, and still others develop strong and forward-thinking leaders from among your teaching staff,” DeVos said in her announcement.

Washington Principal Tom Grosinske said building the school’s culture played a critical role in its success.

Grosinske and his staff try to create a place where every adult in the school, from secretary to teacher and lunch server to school psychologist, believes that students can learn, no matter what challenges they have in their lives.

The culture depends on relationships, he said—relationships between the school and its families and, most important, between teachers and students.

“It’s always about the quality of staff,” Grosinske said.

When teachers form strong relationships with students, the students want to learn, he said.

Each classroom tries to become a family.

First thing in the morning, the students share “appreciations” and ways they can support one another.

How well does Washington’s formula work?

The school’s most recent state report card gave it a score of 91.6 out of 100, placing it in the category of “significantly exceeds expectations.”

The state issues report cards for about 2,340 public and private schools. Of those, about 1,930 are rated. Of those rated, only 46 other schools did as well as Washington.

Grosinske and his staff are particularly pleased with one score that measures how well the school is doing on closing the achievement gap for minorities and low-income students.

Washington’s “closing the gap” score is 100 out of 100. Of all the schools the state rated, only 25 others did as well.

Washington Elementary will be honored Nov. 6-7 in Washington, D.C., by DeVos and Department of Education officials.

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