MURRAY — It was near the end of September that Murray Elementary School learned it had received one of the highest honors any campus in America can achieve, being named a National Blue Ribbon School.
Since then, school officials have gone to Washington, D.C. for the school’s official recognition, along with more than 360 elementary, middle/junior high and high school campuses nationwide. However, the Murray Elementary campus itself had not previously had a chance to fully embrace this accomplishment besides posting it on the campus sign on the front lawn along Broach Street.
On Monday, that chance arrived as the entire school — students, faculty, staff and administrators — made the short venture from the Murray Elementary campus to Lovett Auditorium on the Murray State University campus. There to greet them were officials from throughout the Murray Independent School District, as well as the people Principal Denise Whitaker called “the first and foremost important teachers” – the parents.
“Murray Elementary, you should be very proud of yourself. This Blue Ribbon Award is because of your dedication. It’s because of tradition, pride and excellence for the Murray Independent School District,” Whitaker said, serving her role as the afternoon’s emcee. “There are many schools that would love to receive this honor. They need to come watch all of you.
“You are appreciated. You are loved and we thank you for all that you do to make Murray Elementary shine.”
Throughout her time on the stage Monday, Whitaker did her best to include anyone that has a hand in Murray Elementary’s success. She acknowledged the presence of Murray Middle Principal Bob Horne and Murray High Principal Tony Jarvis, saying that it is because of their campuses’ reputation that parents are choosing to have their children start at Murray Elementary.
She thanked everyone, from custodians to bus drivers to cafeteria workers for their efforts. She thanked her office staff and teachers, as well as volunteers. She thanked MISD central office staff and Board of Education members, along with the parents and students.
When it came his turn at the podium, MISD Board of Education member Jason Howell turned the tables.
“Do ya’ll think Mrs. Whitaker runs a tight ship? She does a pretty good job?” Howell asked the audience, which responded with numerous head nods or by saying, ‘Yes.’
“Well, she bragged on everybody else in her introduction, but she didn’t brag on herself,” he said, his comment being met with loud applause for the principal. He then talked about what MISD means to him. “A lot of you may not know me, but you’re the reason that I’m in Murray, Kentucky today. You see, my wife (Renee) and I lived in Chattanooga (Tennessee) and started having kids (they have three), but we decided we didn’t want to have kids in Chattanooga and we were looking for a place to come.
“We started working back this way, looking at Nashville and points north and west. The reason we ended up in Murray is because of the Murray Independent School District and the great job that you do, and it really didn’t come as a surprise to me that you were awarded the blue ribbon.”
Fellow board member Gina Winchester spoke from a parent’s perspective, having had two children enter the system through Murray Elementary and leave it by graduating from Murray High, which also earned this honor in 2015. She is also an alum of MISD herself.
“It is something I know took a lot of hard work,” Winchester said. “Having had two children that attended Murray Independent Schools, I remember those days of getting up early to get them to school on time, attending all of their extracurricular activities and making sure homework got done.”
This is the 37th year that the United States Department of Education has presented Blue Ribbon School honors. Murray Elementary and Murray High are among more than 9,000 schools to have earned it. For Whitaker, this is her second Blue Ribbon with which to be associated, as she also was principal at Farmington Elementary in Graves County when it received this honor in 2007.
“The National Blue Ribbon award is not something to take lightly. You should not take it for granted,” she said, giving a brief description of what this award requires. “They look at our test scores and they look at all of the instruction that is happening. They want to see that all of our students are achieving at high levels.
“They ask you all sorts of questions like, ‘How do you get your parents involved?’ We are so fortunate at Murray Elementary to have families that encourage and continue to ask us how they can help. That is something not found in every school.
“And then they ask, ‘How does your community get involved?’ We are so lucky to have Murray State University to allow us to come and use their facilities and send us athletes and students to be mentors to our students. It also blows my mind that we go somewhere and people recognize us because we’re wearing T-shirts, and there is not a business that does not jump at the opportunity to provide opportunities for us. We appreciate our community, and this community should be very honored and feel very successful because of the Blue Ribbon award.”