Best of the best: CHHS earns National Blue Ribbon status


Lily Dawson

From left, receptionist Mandi Osborne, school nurse Brittany Crum, and Assistant Principal Zack Sims react to the announcement that CHHS is a National Blue Ribbon School. Principal Doug Payne said plans for a celebration are in the works.

Shelby Parsons, Editor-in-Chief for The Pony Express

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recognized Center Hill High School as a National Blue Ribbon School today.

“The National Blue Ribbon achievement is the highest award of recognition a school in the United States can receive,” Principal Doug Payne said. “This is a tremendous honor for our students, teachers and community.”

CHHS is among 367 top-performing schools given the designation. Only four schools in Mississippi received Blue Ribbon recognition this year. Specifically, CHHS was named an Exemplary High Performing School.

“It’s a symbol of excellence that we receive with great pride,” Payne said.

Even though he knew about the award months in advance, the official press release was embargoed until today. According to the press release, as many as 420 schools may apply or be nominated each year for National Blue Ribbon status, which is awarded to schools for their “overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.”

“We were actually nominated by the state,” Payne explained. “We’re the best of the best. It doesn’t matter who walks through those doors, we’re at the highest level in the state and the nation.”

CHHS now joins Center Hill Middle and Center Hill Elementary as the only schools in the district with this recognition. 

“Considering that all Center Hill schools now hold that title, it really is just a great accomplishment,” Payne said. “This goes deeper than just the administration. Every person that is a part of Center Hill, the entire Center Hill community, sets the stage for us to be this successful.”

Cory Uselton, Superintendent of Education for DeSoto County Schools, called the Blue Ribbon status a tremendous honor for all.

“Center Hill High School is known for excellence, and it is wonderful to see their hard work recognized on the national level,” he said.

Angel Pilcher, a teacher who served on the school’s 13-member Blue Ribbon committee, said the process was lengthy and difficult. The application alone was 19 pages long and, among other things, included demographic data, strategies for academic success, and descriptions of how the curriculum supports college and career readiness.

“I’m just honored to work with such amazing people,” Pilcher said. “Getting this award just reiterated a fact that we already knew, that our school is awesome.”

The 2020 National Blue Ribbon Awards Ceremony will be held virtually Nov. 12-13 because of the pandemic. 

“It’s disappointing to not be able to go to Washington, D.C., to accept that award in person, but I’m still so excited that our school has been given this honor,” said Pilcher, who as Teacher of the Year was supposed to attend the ceremony.

Pilcher added that expectations are now even higher for Center Hill. 

“This accomplishment has set the bar high for our school,” she said. “I imagine every student, teacher and administrator is going to want to keep that standard.”