By Elizabeth Lowe
ELKRIDGE – When Patricia Schratz looks out the window of her second-floor office, she sees a National Blue Ribbon flag flying, a reminder of a major accomplishment for St. Augustine School.
“I feel called to serve,” said Schratz, principal of the Howard County school for 12 years. “Helping children to realize they’re called to serve is at the heart of what I do and what we do.”
“Catholic education is so important to me,” Schratz continued, “because it enables us to form the children, along with their parents, into disciples of Christ.”
St. Augustine School and Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson were named National Blue Ribbon Schools last September, among 26 to earn the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Department of Education. It recognizes schools where students perform at high levels or where significant improvements are made in levels of achievement.
St. Augustine, the 15th Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to receive the Blue Ribbon distinction, serves 260 students in kindergarten through eighth grade and a preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Schratz said what’s most important in striving for excellence is hiring quality teachers and encouraging them.
Of St. Augustine’s 22 faculty members, 13 have advanced degrees, and three more are pursuing master’s degrees. All of its full-time teachers have or are pursuing their master’s.
Test scores help teachers identify students who need additional academic support or challenge, said Schratz, who added “we believe that all students are gifted in some way.”
St. Augustine students in grades three through eight scored in the top 15 percent or higher in the reading and math sections on the 2011 Stanford Achievement Test 10, a requirement to qualify for the Blue Ribbon, Schratz said. Students scored between the 70th and 88th percentile across all eight subject areas, well above average.
Some students take algebra and geometry at the high school level. All middle school students study and perform works by William Shakespeare, Schratz said.
Barbara Madera, the middle school language arts teacher who is in her 11th year at St. Augustine, has a master’s in American and English literature. She has high expectations for her students, who receive rigorous classroom instruction.
“I’m trying to use the language they have in high school,” Madera said. “My curriculum is advanced – and I know it.”
Students are held accountable to make sure “no one is slipping through the cracks,” Madera said. “We have a strong faculty, we have great students.”
Established in 1857, the school also has a rich heritage.
Madera and her four siblings attended St. Augustine. Her son, Eddie, is a seventh-grader at the school and her daughter, Emma, now a sophomore at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, the other 2012 Blue Ribbon school in the archdiocese, attended St. Augustine.
The family attends Mass at St. Augustine Parish.
Katie Sofio, a fourth-grade teacher who has a master’s in education, noted that students have cross-curricular, experiential learning opportunities. Working in the school garden, for example, students learn about God’s creation, nutrition, estimating and measuring.
“At a Catholic school, you can educate the whole person – mind, body and spirit,” Sofio said. “You’re not only teaching them the subjects they need to be successful.”
Fourth-grader Lucas Benedetto said teachers are creative, making it easy to remember material.
“The teachers make it so we have fun,” Lucas said. “When you know that you’re such a good school, it motivates you to do your best.”
Fourth-grader Katherine Munter is proud of her school.
“If you’re like ‘we can stop working hard,’ it’s not (the case),” Katherine said. “You need to work hard to make sure we’re a Blue Ribbon school. The teachers will help you anytime. It’s all about the kids here.”
To celebrate the award, a school-wide assembly was held in September and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori celebrated Mass Dec. 7.
“I am very happy to congratulate you in person,” Archbishop Lori said to the student body. “We are really, really proud.”
Following the liturgy, Archbishop Lori visited classrooms and asked students what they were learning.
His visit “signified to the children how important this achievement is to us,” said Schratz, noting that the Blue Ribbon is affirming, “but it’s not an end.”
“All decisions are based on what’s best for the students,” Schratz said.
She puts students first, aids teachers and listens, said Madera, the middle school language arts teacher.
“She’s very giving,” Madera said, “in terms of herself and her time.”
A Catholic educator for nearly 30 years, Schratz occasionally teaches, giving her staff a reprieve.
“Time is greatly appreciated,” Schratz said. “It’s something that all teachers need. It’s a treat for me as well. I like to have my hand on the pulse of the school.”
St. Augustine School at a glance
Principal: Patricia Schratz
Affiliated religious order: School Sisters of Notre Dame
Offerings: “Character Counts!” encourages students to model trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness caring and citizenship; school also offers “Rachel’s Friends,” founded by the parents of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine, Colo., shooting, in an effort to start a chain reaction of kindness.
Did you know: Schratz has international experience, having taught third grade in Japan.
Copyright (c) Jan. 23, 2013 CatholicReview.org