Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 | 3:09 p.m.
A Clark County School District elementary school was honored today by the federal government as one of the top schools in the nation.
Bracken Elementary School was recognized as one of just 286 National Blue Ribbon schools this year, a coveted distinction that rewards schools for their academic excellence or for making progress in improving student achievement.
The east Las Vegas Valley magnet school — which specializes in science, math, engineering, arts and math — was the only school in Clark County and one of only three schools in Nevada that were selected for the Blue Ribbon award this year.
In addition, Bracken was one of only 26 schools nationally that were designated as “exemplary high achieving,” which means its students scored among the top 10 percent on state tests.
"We are so honored to receive recognition for our innovative program that is helping our students to achieve," Bracken Principal Katie Decker said in a statement. "This is truly an award that helps us show what a school can achieve with everyone working together. Our strong community partnerships, parents, students and awesome staff can be very proud."
There were 236 public and 50 private schools selected for the 2013 Blue Ribbon National School award. These 286 schools represent the top one-quarter percent of the more than 130,000 schools in the nation.
To be eligible for the Blue Ribbon designation, a school must score in the top 10 percent of its state standardized tests. It also must have at least 40 percent of its students from disadvantaged backgrounds or demonstrate dramatic improvement on state tests.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan applauded this year’s Blue Ribbon schools, stating today that “National Blue Ribbon Schools represent examples of education excellence and their work reflects the belief that every child in America deserves a world-class education.”
Bracken, which was named after a civil engineer who was among the earliest settlers in the valley, serves about 520 students this year. About a third of the students don’t speak English and 60 percent qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.
Despite these challenges, Bracken, 1200 North 27th St., is ranked in the top five percent of Clark County’s 217 elementary schools and received a five-star rating on the state school ranking system.
Since 2001, when Decker became principal, Bracken was transformed from one of the lowest-performing schools in the district to one of its top-performing schools.
In the 2011-12 school year — the latest data available — 87 percent of Bracken students were proficient in reading, 68 percent were proficient in writing, 95 percent were proficient in math and 93 percent were proficient in science.
Decker will travel to Washington, D.C., for a Blue Ribbon Schools awards ceremony Nov. 18. Last year, the Bracken elementary principal was named the National Principal of the Year by the Magnet Schools of America, a national association for magnet and theme-based schools.
Bracken’s Blue Ribbon award marks the fourth consecutive year that a Clark County school was named one of the top schools in the country by the federal government.
Last year, Vanderburg Elementary School in Henderson was Nevada’s only Blue Ribbon school. In 2011, Advanced Technologies Academy and Bendorf Elementary School were named Blue Ribbon schools. Helen Smith Elementary School was selected as a Blue Ribbon school in 2010.
The state superintendents of each state nominate Blue Ribbon contenders from among the more than 130,000 schools nationwide. A total of 417 schools may be nominated, with allotments determined by the number of K-12 students and schools in each state. The U.S. Department of Education then invites nominated schools to submit an application for the award.
The two other Nevada schools that received the Blue Ribbon award this year are Lenz Elementary School and Hunsberger School, both in Reno.