School sets standard by earning third coveted award

Rosellen Rodriguez, Staff writer

West Shore earned its first National Blue Ribbon recognition in 2004, helping to put the school on the academic map. Then in 2013, the school returned to the national spotlight with a second ribbon. But after receiving the honor for a third time in October, the school stands out as the only high school in Florida to be awarded the title three times.

In order to qualify, the school’s students must be top performers on state assessments, including English and math. Additionally, the school must serve student populations of at least 40 percent from disadvantaged backgrounds. The award celebrates the school’s overall academic excellence or its progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

“Words cannot begin to describe how proud I am of our entire school community of students, teachers and parents,” Principal Rick Fleming said. “To win the award three times under the new criteria that changed in 2002, and the only high school to do so, puts us in an elite company by ourselves.”

The criteria changed in 2002 to reduce the number of undeserving winners. Before then, schools were being recognized under the popular federal Blue Ribbon Schools Program despite unimpressive academic records.

Since then, schools are rewarded based on student achievement results — not process — to ensure every child learns and no child is left behind, according to former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

History teacher Kirk Murphy, who has taught at the school since its opening in 1998, said the award exemplifies what the original group of 12 worked to create in the school’s charter.

“The fact that we get this award and have received it three times, it speaks highly to everything we have tried to accomplish,” Murphy said. “I think it really is that concept of excellence achieved and that’s what we’ve done.”

Senior Jacob Kent said the school is receiving the recognition it deserves due to the students’ work ethic.

“All the students work extremely hard both academically and [in extracurricular activities],” Kent said. “The number of times we have won the Blue Ribbon is just a testament to the environment that our teachers and faculty create for us.”