Five years ago, Dallas’ Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary was struggling. The school — which serves students from the Vickery Meadow neighborhood, one of the most ethnically diverse parts of Dallas — was one of 34 DISD campuses on the state’ failing list.
On Thursday, the picture couldn’t have been more different.
Lowe is one of three Dallas ISD schools recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as National Blue Ribbon School award winners, honored alongside Walnut Hill Elementary and the Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet. The trio were among 362 campuses across the country to receive the national award.
Only 27 schools in Texas received the distinction, with 15 of them clustered in the Rio Grande Valley.
Schools are nominated by their state education departments for “exemplary” performance in either state or national assessments, or in their efforts in closing achievement gaps between student groups.
Many of the students at Lowe — which was recognized for its work in closing achievement gaps — are English-language learners or refugees. Approximately two-thirds of Lowe’s 500 students are either bilingual or learning English. A similar proportion of Lowe’s student body is economically disadvantaged.
Lowe’s success, said DISD trustee Dan Micciche, “is a great example of how kids at any level can still achieve.”
The school’s principal, Sandra Barrios, broke down in tears and hugged her staff when she received the news.
“I remember having to hold teachers’ hands and crying with them, because the school was just not where it needed to be,” Barrios said in a district video. “The culture … it was terrible; and to see what it is today, it’s such a big difference.
“Now, to be in the top in five years, it’s a testament to the fact that these teachers, and these kids and the community and everybody pulled together so hard to make this school a better place.”
In a statement, Barrios praised the efforts of a wide swath of community groups, including the Park Cities Baptist Church, the Vickery Meadow Youth Development Foundation and Northaven Methodist Church, for their support.
“What an honor to be a part of such a historic moment!” Barrios wrote.
DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa praised the leadership of Barrios, who has been at the school since 2016.
“It takes away all the excuses to see that school go all the way to National Blue Ribbon,” Hinojosa said. “Under our metrics, they are knocking the top off of it.”
With its award, Walnut Hill Elementary became the first DISD neighborhood school to earn two National Blue Ribbon honors as a high-performing school, previously honored in 1999.
It was also the second Blue Ribbon for Barefoot Sanders, the district’s law magnet high school, which earned similar accolades in 2012.
In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, only two other campuses were recognized by the Department of Education: Grand Prairie ISD’s Fine Arts Academy and Caddo Mills ISD’s Griffis Elementary.