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2018 State Liaison Interviews Eric Caldwell, Alaska

Alaska liaison Eric Caldwell describes how the state’s nomination process ensures representation across a unique low population, large, rural state.

Eric Caldwell

For more information on becoming a National Blue Ribbon School, please visit the FAQ page, which details the nomination process and criteria for both public and non-public schools. Contact your state liaison.

2018 State Liaison Interviews Chris Kelly, Virginia

Virginia liaison Chris Kelly describes how he supports Virginia’s National Blue Ribbon award winners through a state-level plan and a social media framework to promote and share their success.

Chris Kelly VA State Liaison

For more information on becoming a National Blue Ribbon School, please visit the FAQ page, which details the nomination process and criteria for both public and non-public schools. Contact your state liaison.

10-17-18 Home Page Take off Announce add Featured Speaker

Featured Media

The 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools Announcement

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today recognized 349 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2018. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

“I’m pleased to celebrate with you as your school is named a National Blue Ribbon School,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a video message to the honorees. “We recognize and honor your important work in preparing students for successful careers and meaningful lives. Congratulations on your students’ accomplishments and for your extraordinary commitment to meeting their unique needs.”

The coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.

Now in its 36th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed recognition on more than 8,800 schools. On November 7-8, the Secretary and the Department of Education will celebrate with 300 public and 49 private school honorees at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

All schools are honored in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates:

  • Exemplary High Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
  • Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students over the past five years.

Up to 420 schools may be nominated each year. The Department invites National Blue Ribbon School nominations from the top education official in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Department of Defense Education Activity and the Bureau of Indian Education. Private schools are nominated by The Council for American Private Education (CAPE).

2018 National Blue Ribbon School Ceremony Featured Speakers and Breakout Sessions


Wednesday Afternoon General Session

Mandy Manning
2018 National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, will deliver the keynote address.
Liberty Ladd
Featured Student Speaker, Liberty Ladd, of Falmouth Maine, will talk about the importance of student voices and perspectives.

Thursday Morning Concurrent Breakout Sessions

Annette Jones
Strategies for Leveraging Your National Blue Ribbon Award by Annette Jones, Associate Director of National Catholic Association, and co-speakers.
Sheila Harrity
Life After National Blue Ribbon by Sheila Harrity, Superintendent-Director, Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School (Fitchburg, MA).
Cheri Sterman
Creative Teaching and Learning Matter by Cheri Sterman, Crayola Director of Education and Vice-Chair of Partnership for 21st Century learning.
Hadley Ferguson
Spark Professional Development with the Edcamp Model by Hadley Ferguson, Executive Director, Edcamp Foundation.


2018 Awards Ceremony

2018 NBRS Ceremony Collage

The 2018 Annual National Blue Ribbon School Ceremony on November 7th and 8th in Washington, D.C. brought more than 900 educators together to recognize 349 public and private schools receiving the award. Aba Kumi, Director of the NBRS program, presided over the celebratory ceremony and presented the plaques and flags to schools.

Congratulatory remarks were offered by Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos; and representative from the program’s partners: National Association of Elementary School Principals; Association for Middle Level Education; and National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Among the featured Keynote Speakers were:

  • Frank Brogan, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, who urged schools to be relentless in finding keys to unlock the potential of every student and reach for perfection;
  • the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, who spoke on building community through compassion, connection. and commitment; and
  • a student representative on the Maine Board of Education, Liberty Ladd, who spoke on the importance of student voice in education.

Ten principals received the Terrel H. Bell Awards for Outstanding School Leadership: Demetrios Demopoulos, Archimedean Upper Conservatory (Miami, FL); Margaret Egan, Saints Peter and Paul School (West Chester, PA); Deana Gonzalez, Jackson Elementary School (Rosenberg, TX); Diane Jackson, Tigerville Elementary School (Taylors, SC); Reginald Landeau, Jr., MS 216 George J. Ryan School (Fresh Meadows, NY); Jason Lawson, Lake Hills Elementary School (Spring Lake, MI); Nongongoma Majova-Seane, Stanton College Preparatory School (Jacksonville, FL); Elizabeth Riesenberger, John Foster Dulles Elementary School (Cincinnati, OH); Tracy Speaker-Gerstheimer, Northwest Early College High School (El Paso, TX); and Aisha Thomas, Zach Elementary School (Ft. Collins, CO). One special lifetime achievement award was given to Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger, CEO, Lusher Charter School (New Orleans, LA).

During the two-day meeting, educators had opportunities to share, connect, and hear from an array of speakers, including: a panel presentation from the U.S. Office of Non-Public Education and the Council for American Private Education on a private school’s perspective of the National Blue Ribbon award, a networking café by topic, and roundtable session presenters (see details below).

Keynote Speech: Building Community, Compassion, Connection, and Commitment by
2018 National Teacher of the Year

Mandy Manning Presentation2018 Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning delivered the NBRS keynote address. Ms. Manning teaches English to newly arrived refugee and immigrant students in the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington.
Ms. Manning shared pictures and stories about two of her students who had multiple needs and what she had to do to meet their needs. She provided examples of how educational policies need to be more flexible to meet the needs of all students. To create more flexible systems, she urged educators to become committed team members who advocate for putting students needs first before system policies and protocols. She encouraged educators to be more directly involved in the creation and implementation of educational policies.
Checkout her website,


Featured Student Speaker: Importance of Student Voice Liberty Ladd, Falmouth, Maine

Liberty Ladd PresentationLiberty Ladd, a senior at Falmouth High School and an appointed student representative to the Maine State Board of Education, talked about the importance of educators listening to students’ voices and perspectives and provided examples. She highlighted the impact teachers can have on students and talked about the impact teachers have had on her life. To encourage student voice, Liberty provided descriptions and examples of how schools and educators can elicit student opinions and input. She implored educators to listen to what students have to say and adapt with their constantly evolving needs.


Thursday Sessions

Strategies for Leveraging Your National Blue Ribbon School Award

Annette Jones Session Panel
Session Panel


Annette Jones, Assistant Director for School Leadership for NCEA and Renee White, Assistant Superintendent for Enrollment and Marketing for Arlington Diocese, were joined by Sherilyn Moses and Victor Pellechia (School Principals).The panel offered helpful ideas for celebrating the NBRS honor-–within the school, with the local community, the state, and international audiences-–as well as shared guides for developing marketing action plans.

Check out the ideas presented during the presentation: Annette Jones PowerPoint Slides.

Life After National Blue Ribbon

Sheila Harrity Presentation
Dr. Sheila Harrity

Dr. Sheila Harrity, Superintendent-Director of Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School (Fitchburg, MA), described the challenges and obstacles she overcame to take on new leadership roles.

Participants noted they left this session feeling inspired, motivated, and encouraged to “Dream Big.”

Key take-aways included:

  • Setting the bar high and believing in students will impact student achievement.
  • Provide real world opportunities for students.
  • Build partnerships with local businesses, institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders to access resources and increase visibility: “Find a way for all partners to win.” “I’m calling the Chamber on Monday to get swag!”
  • Stay positive, compassionate, and great things happen.

Dr. Harrity’s Power Point can be found here.


Creative Teaching and Learning Matter

Cheri Sterman
Cheri Sterman

Cheri Sterman, Crayola Director of Education led participants through hands-on creative activities. Ms. Sterman stressed the importance of creativity in developing students’ future workforce-ready mindsets and abilities. Ms. Sterman provided participants an opportunity to plan how a Creative Leadership Team can build school-wide creative capacity, support colleagues, and drive change in schools.

Some of the take-aways from participants:

  • Developing a Creative Leadership Team (e.g., I love the idea, we will incorporate CLT into our school improvement committee, excited to start a team, that it takes effort to make it happen).
  • Creative thinking is an essential skill for all students to learn. Creativity comes in many forms and can be incorporated into all areas. Creativity transcends all ages, learning types, genders, etc. – anyone can do it!
  • Creativity takes effort, time, and dedication with a goal in mind.

Spark Professional Development with the Edcamp Model

Hadley Ferguson
Hadley Ferguson

Hadley Ferguson, Executive Director, and Cindy Leatherwood, Outreach Manager of the Edcamp Foundation provided an overview of the Edcamp’s key tenets and its approach. The Edcamp model engages educators, empowers teacher voice and choice, and energizes learning communities. Participants had opportunities to experience the Edcamp approach during the session.

One participant commented: “Edcamp was my favorite session! I had never heard of the model and I’m excited to use it.”

Many participants liked the flexible approach to adult learning that leads to connections/networking and camaraderie with other educators.

Other participants reported that they could see the approach being successful at the classroom, staff, and district levels as well as successfully increase teacher buy-in.

You can find Edcamp’s Power Point here.



11082018 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools - Winners



2018 Terrel H. Bell Awardees Honored for Outstanding School Leadership

11072018 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools Terrel Bell Award Winners

The 2018 Terrel H. Bell awardees for outstanding leadership have been named. They are joined this year by a special Lifetime Leadership awardee. The eleven National Blue Ribbon School principals will be recognized on November 7th during the National Blue Ribbon Schools awards ceremony in Washington, DC. Read about each awardee below:

2018 Terrel H. Bell Awardees


Demetrios Demopoulos

Demetrios Demopoulos, Principal, Archimedean Upper Conservatory, Miami, FL


Margaret Egan

Margaret Egan, Principal, Saints Peter and Paul School, West Chester, PA


Deana Gonzalez

Deana Gonzalez, Principal, Jackson Elementary School, Rosenberg, TX


Diane Jackson

Diane Jackson, Principal, Tigerville Elementary School, Taylors, SC


Reginald Landeau

Dr. Reginald Landeau, Jr., Principal, MS 216 George J. Ryan School, Fresh Meadows, NY

Jason Lawson

Jason Lawson, Principal, Lake Hills Elementary School, Spring Lake, MI

Nongongoma Majova-Seane

Nongongoma Majova-Seane, Principal, Stanton College Preparatory School, Jacksonville, FL

Elizabeth Riesenberger

Elizabeth Riesenberger, Principal, John Foster Dulles Elementary School, Cincinnati, OH


Tracy Speaker-Gerstheimer

Tracy Speaker-Gerstheimer, Principal, Northwest Early College High School,
El Paso, TX

Aisha Thomas

Aisha Thomas, Principal, Zach Elementary School, Fort Collins, CO

Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger

Special Lifetime Leadership Awardee
Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger, CEO, Lusher Charter School,
New Orleans, LA


Special Lifetime Leadership Awardee Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger, CEO Lusher Charter School – New Orleans, LA

Kathleen Hurstell RiedlingerKathleen Hurstell Riedlinger has spent her professional career as a leading voice for urban arts education in New Orleans public schools.

In 1981, when Kathy Riedlinger became principal of Lusher Elementary School, the K-6 school served 525 students in an uptown New Orleans neighborhood. The school’s test scores ranked 12th in the district, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds exceeded 70 percent, and there was conflict between teachers and the Parent Teacher Association. Ms. Riedlinger was given goals for the school: update the curriculum and raise test scores. Ms. Riedlinger added an additional goal: increase the percentage of African-American students participating in gifted education.

In 2018, Lusher is the largest public charter school in New Orleans, serving over 1800 students in grades K-12 on two campuses. The school’s motto is “Celebrating cultural diversity through high academics and the arts.” The school lives up to its motto. Lusher’s student population reflects the religious, cultural, racial, and artistic diversity of New Orleans. The high school offers the nationally recognized Certificate of Artistry program, the Project Lead the Way engineering and biomedical programs, and areas of concentration in math/science and humanities/communications. In addition, juniors and seniors may enroll in Tulane University classes for college credit at no charge.

Operated by the non-profit Advocates for Arts-Based Education Corporation, Lusher is recognized for excellence in academics, arts, athletics, and social-emotional learning. As the school’s leader, Ms. Riedlinger galvanized a vigorously collaborative effort with the school’s parents, teachers, and administrators to design and implement a superlative arts-based curriculum and a school culture deeply rooted in New Orleans’ rich arts history. In recognition of this accomplishment, Lusher recently had its designation as an exemplary school renewed by the Arts School Network.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of her work occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failure, which devastated more than 80 percent of the city of New Orleans in August, 2005. Lusher faced not only the physical challenges of rebuilding the school, but housing was needed for families, staff, and teachers. The school community faced the same emotional struggles everyone in the city faced. Thanks to the strength of the school community, as well as the resilience of its leader, the Lusher community responded with vision and enthusiasm.

Lusher’s core values of kindness, responsibility, respect, and hard work were key in helping students, families, and staff heal. This “resurrection” was a key part of the school’s healing; the school needed to make sure their students could trust again, hope again, and feel they could direct their lives in a meaningful way.

Undaunted by these challenges, Ms. Riedlinger quickly mobilized the Lusher community, realizing the importance of school-community partnerships. Working closely with local and international partners, such as Tulane University, Ms. Riedlinger reopened Lusher’s doors to students in January, 2006, and Lusher became the first school to have a post-Katrina charter approved by the local school board. In just a few short months, she raised over $3 million in private donations to renovate and open a high school campus and build a state-of-the-art performing arts center at the original, lower school campus. She was instrumental in founding, and then elected president of, the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools, now known as the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools. This organization mentored other local educators to re-open schools as locally-run charter schools at a time when the public school board was incapacitated and unable to open the school district.

With Katrina having turned the city’s educational landscape upside down, this collaborative group of school leaders worked together to ensure the sustainability, success, and survivability of their fledgling charter schools. Lusher played a key role in helping itself and others build a new public educational landscape that inspired the entire community to rethink public schooling.

Lusher’s phenomenal growth as an academically superior public charter school is a direct result of the vision, courage, tenacity, and outstanding leadership of Ms. Riedlinger. While she credits the communal aspect of her accomplishments, it is truly her leadership abilities that marshalled community stakeholders – faculty, parents, university and business partners – to support Lusher’s unique arts and academic mission. During the course of nearly four decades, Ms. Riedlinger has kept a laser focus on Lusher’s mission and never lost sight of it despite challenges. She ensures that her dreams and decisions foster this mission, which is reflected in all school-wide systems and structures.

Kathleen Hurstell Riedlinger is a leader with a vision, heart, and remarkable talent in finding and hiring excellent teachers. Above all, Kathy Riedlinger is a great communicator and implementer of her vision, the courageous cheerleader of her troops, and a seasoned expert in student learning and the arts. Rather than battle skeptics, she has turned them into advocates who seek to replicate her model. She is an unparalleled example of educational entrepreneurship, integrity, and collaboration.

Demetrios Demopoulos, Principal Archimedean Upper Conservatory Miami, FL

Demetrios DemopoulosThe desire to build and sustain a culture of excellence and innovation drives Principal Demetrios Demopoulos’s leadership style, and his humble beginnings had a lasting impact on his views of education. Principal Demopoulos’s path began in a small town in Greece where the value of education was sparked by family and reinforced by influential teachers along the way. He made his way to the United States to further his graduate studies in computer science. After teaching undergraduate classes at Rice University, however, he found his true passion and shifted his focus to becoming an inspirational educator. His goal was to inspire students to dream bigger and reach further than they could have imagined, just as his teachers had done for him when he was younger.

In 2002, Principal Demopoulos learned about a group of people hoping to open a public charter school focused on mathematics and the Greek language. After meeting with the school’s founders, he was immediately inspired to join the team and become a mathematics instructor for Archimedean Academy’s 1st through 5th grades. Then, in 2007, Demopoulos was offered an exciting opportunity to help establish and open a new high school, Archimedean Upper Conservatory, for which he would serve as principal.

As the principal of a new school, Demopoulos had to garner buy-in from the start. The goals of the Archimedean Upper Conservatory were ambitious: to defy expectations by providing all students with a rigorous college preparatory academic program so that they would be able to earn admission into prestigious institutions of higher education and qualify for necessary financial aid. With a diverse student population, the majority of whom would be first generation college students, the challenge was clear.

Principal Demopoulos recognized that the Upper Conservatory was a different model than the community was used to. Not only did the Conservatory offer a dual-mathematics curriculum combined with Greek language immersion, but it also was significantly more rigorous. The Conservatory included mandatory philosophy classes every year, emphasized writing across the curriculum, exposed students to challenging and advanced science courses, extended the school day, and emphasized academic competitions. Principal Demopoulos found that many entering students had a difficult time picturing themselves in rigorous classes, often because they had been academically grouped as early as 1st grade. The challenge for Demopoulos was to communicate to the whole community that all students were capable of succeeding. Thus, in addition to building a rigorous and unique curriculum designed to prepare students for success in higher education, he helped students and families, convincing them to push themselves out of their comfort zones and aim higher.

As a leader, Principal Demopoulos worked tirelessly to inspire teachers, students, parents, and the community to think beyond what might be expected of students. He asked them to embrace different, innovative ways of building scholars by setting high expectations while providing the supports necessary to meet the challenge. Taking cues from his past experiences in the corporate world and academics, Demopoulos engaged stakeholders at every step, prioritizing accountability. He approached problems like an engineer and kept up-to-date on research and ideas from the field. When working with faculty, he modeled expectations by continuing to teach challenging courses himself. He also was available for meetings with parents after the regular school day, conducted review sessions on Saturdays, and facilitated PSAT/SAT/ACT practice sessions on several Sunday mornings. This level of commitment and service, from the principal and by teachers, who followed his lead, demonstrated to students and their families that they were all in this together: one Archimedean family.

Aisha Thomas, Principal Zach Elementary School Fort Collins, CO

Aisha ThomasPrincipal Thomas’ belief in a collaborative approach and working with people toward a shared vision is at the heart of Zach Elementary School’s success. When Aisha Thomas took the principal position at Zach Elementary School in 2013, she was no stranger to the Poudre School District. Having served the district for eleven years as an educator and administrator, she knew Zach Elementary was a good school. Her mission was to move the school from good to great by building a collaborative culture with a focus on organizational health and communication and ensuring effective instruction for all students. Within five short years, Principal Thomas created momentum at Zach Elementary, leading the school from a state ranking of 89th to 13th.

Zach Elementary School was already known as a high performing school with strong community and family involvement. But, it had experienced five years of leader turnover which led to a challenging professional culture. When Principal Thomas arrived, she continued the already established attitude of academic excellence and employed a leadership style based on consensus-building, trust, and communication, while promoting a strategic vision for the school resulting in a shift in school culture. She aligned Zach’s mission to the district vision and focused on building a collaborative culture through professional learning communities. The school implemented a multi-tiered system of intervention for academic and behavior support and created stronger administrative-classroom teacher feedback systems. Principal Thomas strengthened positive parent partnerships and guidance advisory committees and coordinated a school-wide community giving campaign called “Zach Gives Back.”

The heart of Aisha Thomas’ leadership style is shared decision-making to serve a common purpose. Focusing on a common vision, she worked with staff through a series of meetings to avoid initiative fatigue by identifying and agreeing to “4 Diamonds” that would serve as the guideposts for their work for at least four years. Understanding that initiatives are often abandoned before they reach their full potential, and by agreeing not to introduce anything new unless it aligned with one of the diamonds, staff were empowered to innovate and strengthen, rather than abandon and start from scratch. The 4 Diamonds categories – Curriculum, Professional Learning Communities, Multi-Tiered System of Support, and Assessment – provided staff with a team structure to focus their energy, time, and resources. Principal Thomas also initiated shared decision-making protocols and norms across teams and committees to ensure all voices were heard and staff were empowered to collaborate to move toward their collective vision.

To create a welcoming and inviting environment for families, Principal Thomas understood that communication was the key. She worked with front office staff to identify protocols focused on service and safety. Principal Thomas led the efforts for clear and consistent communication through social media, an active website, phone calls, memos, and newsletters. She also implemented a family engagement plan that included ample informal and formal opportunities to connect with families and the community in meaningful ways. The plan included committee meetings, informal coffee talks, and parent education nights.

One of the most impactful shifts Principal Thomas implemented at Zach was a robust coaching system. Under the new system, she and her assistant principal each designated two days a week to touring classrooms, hallways, recess, and the lunchroom for observation and reflection. This designated time provides built-in coaching opportunities and a feedback-loop while ensuring strong connections among teachers, administrators, and students.

Principal Thomas has successfully created a culture where every stakeholder is empowered to provide the best educational experience possible by focusing on the goal, treating each other with care, and inspiring a love of learning.

Tracy Speaker-Gerstheimer, Principal Northwest Early College High School El Paso, TX

Tracey Speaker-GerstheimerFounded in 2008, the goal of Northwest Early College High School (NWECHS) is for students to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree from El Paso Community College (EPCC). The school, consisting of 28 portable classrooms, is located on the edge of EPCC northwest campus. In 2014, Tracy Speaker-Gerstheimer, became principal just two weeks before the start of the new school year. At that time, NWECHS was in trouble: student enrollment was low, less than 60% of the students were graduating with an associate degree, the school had been on the federal AYP list, and it previously had three principals in six years.

One of Principal Speaker-Gerstheimer’s first goals was to change the reputation of NWECHS and increase student enrollment. To that end, she launched targeted student recruitment initiatives. She worked with middle school principals and teachers to create a pipeline of students to the school, and every 8th grader attended an informational meeting about the program, completely run by NWECHS students. She and the counselor organized multiple information nights and sent letters in English and Spanish to all 8th graders within 20 miles of the school, and she employed state-of-the-art marketing strategies, such as mass mailings and advertisements on social media. Additionally, she involved teachers in the interview process for incoming ninth-grade applicants, using a novel “speed-dating” technique where recruits met with as many as eight NWECHS teachers in their interview sessions.

A second goal was to build relationships with faculty and staff. Principal Speaker-Gerstheimer quickly established effective Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) among all disciplines and grade levels. She has supported faculty in achieving National Board Certification so that the school will reach the goal of 100% of the faculty receiving the certification.

A third goal was to provide the structures necessary for students to earn both a diploma and an associate degree. She launched the required 9th grade NWECHS’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. For additional support in the later grades, she devised a new College Prep class, writing much of the curriculum herself. She worked with the counselor to add a required course for all seniors focused on scholarship writing. Principal Speaker-Gerstheimer introduced Robotics and AP Computer Science to the NWECHS curricula. She advocated relentlessly for needed resources, including a full-time parent liaison; specialized tutoring, remediation, and software for students having difficulty with the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) college-placement exams; and student preparation services for the SAT and ACT.

In only four years, Principal Speaker-Gerstheimer’s tireless leadership and innovative strategies have brought about a dramatic increase in the number of students completing sixty hours of college coursework before earning their high-school diploma. As of May 2018, 56 of 87 NWECHS juniors earned an associate degree a year ahead of schedule, qualifying them for scholarships so they can begin advanced work on their four-year degrees during their senior year of high school. NWECHS seniors may now attend University of Texas at El Paso to earn 18 college credit hours after they finish their associate degree.

Principal Speaker-Gerstheimer exemplifies all the qualities you would want in a school leader: grit, reflective thinking, patience, compassion, and fearlessness. Because of her efforts, NWECHS now graduates 90% of its students with associate degrees. Now the longest-serving principal in the school’s history, Principal Speaker-Gerstheimer has established a sturdy foundation and a high standard of leadership. This foundation will also ensure that the school continues to make a difference in the lives of Canutillo’s at-risk students for years to come.

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