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Osceola Elementary School recognized for high academic achievement

October 6, 2018

Osceola Elementary was one in four Nebraska schools recently recognized by the U.S Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School for 2018.

“Well, it feels really good,” said Brett Webster, principal of Osceola Elementary School, also known as Jeffrey Elementary School among Osceola residents. “When I got here four years ago, we kind of started talking about this a little bit.”

The U.S Department of Education receives up to 420 school nominations each year and only 349 institutions are recognized nationwide, including four Nebraska schools. Coincidentally, all Nebraska honorees this year are elementary schools. Besides Osceola, Hitchcock County (Culbertson), Maude Rousseau (Lincoln) and North Bend Central (North Bend) elementaries.

Osceola Elementary School was recognized as an Exemplary High Performing School measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. It was nominated in January by the Nebraska Department of Education, followed by an extensive application process where Webster had to put together narratives about the school’s curriculum, students and community connections.

Webster will accept the award on behalf of the school during a formal ceremony scheduled to be held Nov. 7-8 in Washington D.C.

“The four Nebraska honorees are shining examples of hard work and determination,” said Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt, in a release. “These schools are demonstrating what it takes to complete the important work of closing achievement gaps to ensure all students have an equitable opportunity to succeed and to be college, career and civic ready.”

When Fullerton Elementary School (in Fullerton) was recognized with the same honor in 2016, Webster, who began serving as principal in fall 2015, said he knew he wanted his school to be recognized the same way. He worked closely with faculty members to form a five-year plan to further enhance students’ academic achievements, though it was achieved much earlier than expected.

“The teachers really dug in their heels and went to work and started to really get into the standards even more and really start understanding the things that they were missing,” Webster said.

Webster said getting students excited and motivated for tests was the key behind the school’s success, in addition to providing students ownership for their achievements through an Academic Wall of Fame showcasing the pictures and plaques of high-achieving students. Webster added it gives students a sense of accomplishment proving hard work does pay off, as well as encouraging others to do the same.

“We had a five-year goal and we managed to make it in two years, but in just a couple of years, our kids have really bought into the fact that these test scores mean more than just a score that’s going to pop up on a computer,” he said. “When the kids are excited about it, they really want to do well. They want to prove to everybody how much they’re learning.”

Webster said the progress his students have made can be traced back to the hard work of faculty members in building relationships. He said students hold as much ownership for their learning process as their teachers.

“There’s no blueprint. There’s no magic curriculum,” Webster said. “It’s just hard work and it comes from the teachers and it gets instilled in the kids and then the kids buy in into what the teachers are wanting. It’s a team process.”

Moving forward, Webster said he is determined to keep this standard within his school with each new group of students who come in.

“We really set the bar high for ourselves and now, we have to do a good job of holding that standard,” Webster said. “We are going to be at this level for a long time.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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