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John F. Kennedy, Wantagh, West Islip high schools achieve Blue Ribbon status

John F. Kennedy High School in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District was named a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Three Long Island public high schools — Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy, Wantagh and West Islip — were named 2020 Blue Ribbon winners on Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

It was the second year in a row that three Long Island schools were selected for the prestigious honor. Blue ribbons recognize two categories of schools: those with superior graduation rates and test scores, and those with exemplary records in closing achievement gaps between students of different races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds.

All three Long Island schools were honored as "high performing," for their academic achievements.

At John F. Kennedy High, "There are courses that challenge everybody no matter what their interests are," said Principal James Murray, who leads the school of about 1,500 students. "There are opportunities for everyone to flourish."

Plainview-Old Bethpage Superintendent Mary O'Meara said the school offers a variety of research programs for students at every level, and the district recently added a program for business and entrepreneurship that culminates with an internship with the local chamber of commerce.

The Blue Ribbon distinction is representative of the community supporting the schools and education that students receive starting in kindergarten, O'Meara said. "They come to the high school well-prepared," she said.

Educators at the school said they will have to wait to celebrate, as the high school was closed Thursday due to a staff member testing positive for COVID-19.

In West Islip High, Superintendent Bernadette Burns attributed the honor to all of the high school's 1,300 students. The school provides several ways for students to earn college credits, including through Advanced Placement courses and an International Baccalaureate program. West Islip High students also can earn credits through partnerships with local colleges and Syracuse University.

The district recently upgraded its technology labs and built a robotics classroom. The district has a one-to-one program where each student in grades K-12 is provided with a device.

"We tried to make choices to prepare our kids for the 21st century," Burns said.

Wantagh Superintendent John McNamara credited the staff and preparation that students receive for the honor.

"This is a feather in the cap for our entire district, and that is what makes us really proud … We are just under 900 students this year, and our enrollment has declined over the past 10 years. But as a district, we are still able to offer a good number of electives, a great number of Advanced Placement courses and a great number of college courses," McNamara said. "And even with a smaller school … we can still offer such a great compilation of courses."

Applications for Blue Ribbon typically require months of preparation by school employees and supporters. The three local schools are among 18 chosen statewide.

Last year, Bethpage High School, Manhasset Secondary School and Shoreham-Wading River High School were among 19 Blue Ribbon schools in the state.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony for the 317 public and 50 nonpublic schools chosen will be held virtually Nov. 12-13.

"Congratulations to this year’s National Blue Ribbon School awardees," Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a statement. "It’s a privilege to recognize the extraordinary work you do to meet students’ needs and prepare them for successful careers and meaningful lives."

Since 2015, the majority of public elementary and middle schools in this region have found themselves shut out of Blue Ribbon competitions, due to the large numbers of parents opting their children out of state tests in grades three through eight. Federal law requires at least 95% of such students to be tested annually.

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