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2019 Awards Ceremony


The 2019 Annual National Blue Ribbon School Ceremony on November 14th and 15th in Washington, D.C. brought more than 1000 educators together to recognize 362 public and private schools receiving the award. Aba Kumi, Director of the NBRS program, presided over the celebratory luncheon and ceremony on Day 2 and presented the plaques and flags to schools.
Congratulatory remarks were offered to the schools by Frank Brogan, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. SPEAKER VIDEO and TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE HERE.
Among the featured Keynote Speakers during the two-day event were:

  • Erin Gruwell, educator and founder of Freedom Writers Foundation, who talked about becoming a catalyst for change and the history and present activities of the Freedom Writers;
  • A high school senior and student representative on the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, Nate Tinbite, who spoke on the importance of student voice and advocacy in education. SPEAKER VIDEO and TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE HERE;
  • The 2019 National Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson, who spoke on equity and excellence and the story of the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center; and
  • Sheila Harrity, Superintendent, Montachusett Vocational Technical High School in Fitchburg, MA, who spoke on life after the National Blue Ribbon award.

Terrel H. Bell Awards for Outstanding School Leadership

Ten principals received the Terrel H. Bell Awards for Outstanding School Leadership. Congratulatory remarks were offered by Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and representatives from the program’s partners: L. Earl Franks of the National Association of Elementary School Principals; James Barnes, the Association for Middle Level Education; and Bob Farrace, the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The principals include: Michelle DuBose Adams, Eichold-Mertz Magnet School of Math, Science, & Technology (Mobile, AL); George Petersen, Liberty Elementary School (Fresno, CA); Daniel Crispino, John Barry Elementary School (Meriden, CT); Alisa Bender, Lt. Col. Horace Meek Hickam Elementary School (Honolulu, HI); Shane Staszcuk, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Academy (Chicago, IL); Ray Helmuth, Van Buren Elementary School (Plainfield, IN); Lily Albright, Unionville Elementary School (Unionville, IN); and Lisa Ditillo Speroni, PS 253, The Magnet School of Multicultural Humanities (Brooklyn, NY). CONGRATULATORY SPEAKER VIDEO and TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE HERE.

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 concurrent session presenters (see details below).


FEATURED KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Freedom Writer’s Erin Gruwell – Becoming a Catalyst for Change

Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell shared her story of how, as a teacher, she helped 150 of her students use the power of education to write a book, graduate from high school, and attend college. Erin challenged her students to overcome the seemingly insurmountable problems of poverty, racism, and violence. In her inspiring presentation, Gruwell played clips from the movie, based on their book, and told how her students oversaw the screenplay and filming of their story in a real school with real students. She highlighted the personal experiences of two students and what happened to them over time. Erin Gruwell showed how teachers and students can become “Catalysts for Change.”

For more information visit:


Nathaniel Tinbite

Nathaniel Tinbite, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School (JFK), is the 42nd student member of the Montgomery County School Board of Education. Mr. Tinbite is a member of the Board’s Strategic Planning Committee and the Policy Management Committee.

Nate shared his experiences as the President of the Montgomery County Student Government Association, leading the district’s 163,000 students to fight for English Language Learner program funding and frank classroom discussions of implicit bias. He encouraged educators to engage students by asking for and listening to their opinions on any decision that involves students. He suggested that every school board should have a student representative.

For more information about Nate Tinbite, please visit:

Thursday Sessions

Strategies for Leveraging Your National Blue Ribbon School Award

Annette Jones, Former Assistant Director for School Leadership, NCEA; Maria Goretti, Catholic School Westfield, IN; Sherilyn R. Moses, Principal Dr. Ronald E. McNair Elementary School Germantown, MD; Renee White, Assistant Superintendent for Enrollment and Marketing Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Arlington, VA; shared ideas for celebrating the honor. Celebrations may occur not only within the school, but with the local community, the state, and international audiences.

Some key take-aways included:

  • Incorporate NBRS into all communications.
  • Enhance community and business involvement by promoting NBRS.
  • Leverage the NBRS award now and in the future.

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

Practical Mindfulness for Focus, Performance and Emotion Regulation in Our Schools

Dr. Christopher Willard, a psychologist, author, and educational consultant, engaged educators in an interactive session. Participants not only learned about brain science and mindfulness, but also practical strategies, such as breathing techniques, for educators to use with students.

Key take-aways included:

  • Techniques to share with students and my own children.
  • Incorporating mindfulness isn’t just about setting aside time, we much teach kids how to be mindful.
  • Very informative about brain science and how the brain is impacted by mindfulness.

You can find Dr. Willard’s slides here.

Teaching Every Child

Two former principals described the characteristics of the children and how to embrace that “less than perfect child.” The difficult topic of inherent bias, that we all have, was also discussed. Challenges that are universal in schools were addressed, i.e. children from impoverished homes, behavior issues, etc. Current research and strategies for addressing students were presented.

Key take-aways included:

  • The differences between equity, equality, and justice.
  • We need to increase our awareness of inherent bias and address it by building relationships.
  • Analyze discipline types and rates to root out any disproportionality.

The Wealth Club®
A Holistic Approach to Financial Education!

The presenters talked about the importance of financial literacy and provided an overview of the Wealth Club Building Block system. It is an exciting whole person approach to wealth literacy,™ that incorporates socio-emotional learning, mindset, financial knowledge, and action steps. The Wealth Club® is the signature program of Rising Sun Cultural and Educational Programs, Inc. a 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating in Greater Washington, D.C.

For more information read: THE WEALTH CLUB.


KEYNOTE SPEAKER: 2019 National Teacher of the Year – Equity and Excellence: The Story of the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center

Rodney Robinson is a 19-year social studies teaching veteran. He became a teacher to honor his mother, who struggled to receive an education after being denied an education as a child due to segregation and poverty in rural Virginia. In 2015, Robinson started teaching at the Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center, in an effort to better understand the school-to-prison pipeline. He co-developed a social studies curriculum that focuses on juvenile justice and the prison system.
During an entertaining presentation, Robinson shared his life story, including his teaching career, his teaching approach and philosophy for students at the Detention Center, and his recent activities as the 2019 Teacher of the Year. He talked about his core mission beliefs and presented his platform: economic and cultural equity.

Checkout his website: #NTOY19

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Dr. Sheila Harrity Shares Life After National Blue Ribbon

Sheila Harrity

Dr. Sheila Harrity is currently Superintendent-Director of Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In 2013, Dr. Harrity, was principal of Worcester Technical High School, which received the National Blue Ribbon Award. She was recognized as the National High School Principal of the Year in 2014.

Dr. Harrity shared her journey as an educational leader, discussed some of the challenges and obstacles she overcame along the way, and highlighted solutions that were instrumental in the success of her school and her professional pathway.

As she applies the principles and practices that helped her to succeed in reshaping yet another vocational high school into a model program that is being emulated across Massachusetts and the country.

See Dr. Harrity’s Power Point slides HERE.

For more information visit: