Five Colorado schools, including one in Denver, got gold stars from the U.S. Department of Education

Valdez and Wildflower elementary schools stand out for the populations of students they educate.

Paris Elementary School teacher Elizabeth Rodriguez checks in with students on Aug. 28 2015. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat)

By Nic GarciaChalkbeat

Five Colorado schools, two of which serve large populations of at-risk students, are being singled out for stellar academic performance by the U.S. Department of Education.

The department Thursday announced its annual list of Blue Ribbon Schools. Only 324 schools throughout the U.S. made the cut, the department said in a release.

Schools win the recognition either for their overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps that separate some student groups from others.

Unlike last year, no Colorado school was recognized for closing achievement gaps. All five were awarded the title for overall academic performance.

The five schools are:

  • Bear Creek Elementary School, Boulder Valley School District
  • Dennison Elementary School, Jeffco Public Schools
  • The Connect Charter School, Pueblo County Schools
  • Valdez Elementary School, Denver Public Schools
  • Wildflower Elementary School, Harrison School District

Both Valdez and Wildflower elementary schools stand out for the populations of students they educate.

One third of Valdez students are learning English as a second language, 47 percent qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches and 62 percent of students are Hispanic. At Wildflower, the student population is more diverse: 31 percent are white, 39 percent are Hispanic, and 15 percent are black. Seventy percent of students also qualify for government subsidized lunches.

Located in northwest Denver, Valdez is a dual-language Spanish and English school that has innovation status, meaning it is run by the district but has more freedom in choosing curriculum, managing its budget and setting the school calendar.

In 2016, Denver school leaders, including Superintendent Tom Boasberg, celebrated major gains at the school, choosing it as the setting for DPS’s annual state test score news conference.

“National Blue Ribbon Schools are active demonstrations of preparing every child for a bright future,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “You are visionaries, innovators and leaders. You have much to teach us: some of you personalize student learning, others engage parents and communities in the work and life of your local schools and still others develop strong and forward-thinking leaders from among your teaching staff.”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.