Jeremy Ranch Elementary receives Blue Ribbon Award, first in Park City | ParkRecord.com

Jeremy Ranch Elementary receives Blue Ribbon Award, first in Park City

It is the first National Blue Ribbon School in the district

From left: Ember Conley, Shawn Kuennen, J.J. Ehlers, Todd Hauber, Tim McConnell, Kathlein Einhorn and Andrew Frink stand with the 2017 National Blue Ribbon Award banner, which was presented to Jeremy Ranch Elementary School on Oct. 2. (Carolyn Webber/Park Record)

Blue balloons decorated the halls and auditorium of Jeremy Ranch Elementary School on Monday, all to celebrate its recent naming as a National Blue Ribbon School.

In a live-stream video on the U.S. Department of Education's website, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that Jeremy Ranch and J.A. Taylor Elementary School in Centerville would be the winners of the award for the state. Only two schools in each state can be selected every year, and this is the first time that a school in the Park City School District has received the award.

Parents, teachers, students and district staff gathered to listen to the message from DeVos, who said, "National Blue Ribbon Schools embody that kind of excellence in vision, implementation and outcomes."

After the video, Ember Conley, superintendent, stood to congratulate the school and present Principal Shawn Kuennen with a banner. Conley also emphasized to the crowd on Monday the magnitude of this award.

"You have landed in the top 6 percent in the nation of being such an outstanding and exemplary school," she said. "Congratulations."

Like many of the parents who came, Sherri Olden, who has a son in fifth-grade, was happy to see the school her kid attends be recognized.

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"It's really exciting," she said. "People move to places just because of Blue Ribbon Schools, so to have it where we already are is awesome. It's really awesome."

The school focuses on educating students in all subjects, including music, computational thinking/coding, healthy lifestyles and even foreign language. Students in the French dual-immersion program spend half of their days learning in French. Those who are not enrolled in the class receive STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction twice weekly. The school also focuses on creative learning with its Masterpieces in Art program, a parent-run, monthly art experience for students.

Superintendent Ember Conley speaks to students at Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, congratulating them on their success. (Carolyn Webber/Park Record)

Part of that is possible because of an active parent-teacher organization, which regularly provides grants to teachers that want to try new ideas. The PTO also runs the state's largest Scholastic book fair twice a year, according to a press release from the district.

Kuennen has been a great leader for the school while experimenting with the new programs as well, Conley said.

"Shawn is super innovative," she said in an interview with The Park Record. "He is willing to try new things. It also goes to show, we are looking at someone who has been here 10 years. This doesn't happen your first year."

The school was nominated last spring by the Chief State School Officer, after which Kuennen completed an application. The U.S. Department of Education announced the results on Sept. 28. Kuennen and other members of the school are scheduled to attend an award ceremony on Nov. 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., to honor all of the Blue Ribbon Schools.

He is excited to keep the momentum high after the achievement and to continue to grow student test scores.

"It's a pretty sought-after school already, because of the long history of strong performance," he said. "I guess it's a nice validation, and it's wonderful that we can have that banner to hang up and point to and keep performance at the forefront of what we do."