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Blue Ribbon marks third in a row for local school

by Brandon Smith | September 25, 2021 at 4:04 a.m.
Park Magnet School Principal Sarah Oatsvall, right, reacts with Tiffany Sims’ third-grade class while watching a Department of Education announcement video naming the school one of its National Blue Ribbon Schools on Wednesday. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen of The Sentinel-Record

Following U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona's naming of Park Magnet School as a National Blue Ribbon School Tuesday -- marking its third consecutive such honor -- Park Magnet Principal Dr. Sarah Oatsvall expressed her gratitude, not only to the school's teachers and staff, but to the students.

"As an IB (International Baccalaureate) school, we are focused on open-mindedness and a global perspective," she said. "So I think one of the things that is unique, and really sets Park apart, is the diversity of our student population. You know, it really represents the cross-section of who we have in our community. And I think that really is a testament to our Hot Springs community and to the Hot Springs School District, and it's something that we hold very dear and special in our hearts at Park, particularly as an IB school and that commitment to that global perspective and international mindedness."

Nominated by the Arkansas Department of Education, schools can be nominated once every five years on a one-year application cycle. After receiving the Blue Ribbon honors in 2009, Park did once again in 2015, making this year's recognition the third in a row.

In their ongoing pursuit to provide a top-notch education for students, Oatsvall said they hope to make it four in a row when they are next eligible in 2027.

"We couldn't be more proud of this recognition as a multiple Blue Ribbon School Awardee in 2009, 2015, and 2021," Hot Springs School District Superintendent Stephanie Nehus said Wednesday. "Our Park Magnet Team dedicates so much time and heart into making this continued status a possibility. What an exciting day for our Trojan Family and the Hot Springs community!"

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Each year, the U. S. Department of Education selects those schools that demonstrate all students can achieve to high levels.

As a small school with just over 400 students, Park Magnet has grown significantly over the last several years.

"When I first came to Park four years ago, we had 262 students and now we're at 408 today, I believe," said Oatsvall. "So we have grown a lot in a short amount of time. And during that growth process, we have really focused on being intentional in making sure no one falls through the cracks, because as schools grow, sometimes there's too much going on and we can't focus on each individual student.

"We have managed to not have that happen -- we've been intentionally focused on making sure we know who all of our kids are," she said. "And we know their families, and we know what they need, and then we can meet those specific needs."

Oatsvall credits her staff in making sure that not a single student falls behind in their growth and learning experience, as well as their overall well-being.

"We know which of our families need assistance outside of school," she said. "Whether it's medical services -- we can connect them with that. Whether it's food, whether it's tutoring, after-school programming -- you know. And that's true across the Hot Springs School District. We've tried really hard to make sure that we know what our students and our families need and then we make sure that we get that to them. And our teachers and intervention teams and our counselors and all of our support staff work to make sure that all of those services are provided for those who need it."

Oatsvall said a lot of sacrifice and hard work goes into providing such a level of care for students -- a task, she notes, the Park Magnet team is up for.

"You know, our teachers work tirelessly -- they work in the evenings; they work on the weekends; they sacrifice time with their families to be the best that they can be every day," she said.

"And their level of commitment is so clear in all that they do. You know, no one comes in and just does it as a job, right, everyone is committed to our mission and to our work here for our kids. And certainly, I feel that immensely from our staff and it is truly inspiring to come to work every day and see people who care so deeply and who give it their all, you know.

"You can't help but join them in that and I'm just so honored to be able to work in a place with people like that. I'm starting my fifth year at Park and I love this school. I love our staff; I love our students and our families, and it's such an exciting honor for all of us. And I'm just honored and deeply humbled to be able to be a part of that," she said.

Print Headline: Blue Ribbon marks third in a row for local school

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