Grundy County High School has taken top honors in a national competition to find schools that have high-performing students even in tough situations.
Just 10 schools in Tennessee won the Blue Ribbon Schools designation this year. Grundy High was recognized for its high test scores while serving a population of students who come from largely low-income homes.
Across the country, only 304 schools received the designation.
"Blue Ribbon schools exemplify the ideal that all students can excel," said Aba Kumi, who heads the Blue Ribbon program for the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. "Grundy County High School has shown significant improvement despite serving a challenging demographic."
Nearly 70 percent of Grundy High's students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Twenty-one percent of the student population attends some sort of special education class.
But 90 percent of its students have scored at or above grade level in state-mandated math and language arts tests over the last five years, according to Grundy High's application for the Blue Ribbon. The school has a 100 percent white enrollment, according to its application.
The application process involved a site visit and observation of teaching techniques, said Grundy Director of Schools Clay Newsome. Evaluators were impressed by the school's vocational program and by its 94 percent graduation rate and less than 2 percent dropout rate, Newsome said.
Getting to this point took years, Newsome said, and he acknowledged previous Director of Schools Jody Hargis, former Principal Willie Childers and current Principal Rick Rust for their hard work.
"Since 1982, 600 of these awards have been given, but we are only the 23rd school in Tennessee to receive it," Newsome said. "It shows that Grundy County can not only compete on a state level, but also on the national level."
In Grundy County, news of the Blue Ribbon designation was met with excitement. The school gathered Friday to celebrate. School leaders traveled to Washington last week to accept the award.
"I'm very pleased with the school, really proud of the accomplishment," said school board member Bobby Foster. "It's the whole school, not just one teacher or one student. It was a total group effort, and they've all worked very hard."
BY THE NUMBERS
* 138,000 -- Number of schools in the country
* 304 -- Number of schools named 2010 Blue Ribbon winners across the U.S.
* 10 -- Number of 2010 Blue Ribbon winners in Tennessee
* 6,000 -- Number of schools given the designation since 1982
* 22 -- Number of other Tennessee schools given the designation
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education
Blue Ribbon schools don't receive cash prizes, so the acknowledgment is mostly "bragging rights," Kumi said.
"But there can be other benefits," she said. "People who may have overlooked the school and possibly thought about moving away will see this and all of a sudden say, 'Why move away when we have a really good school right here?'"
Contact staff writer Adam Crisp at acrisp@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6323.