By Bobby Ellis
As Principal Dan Costellow stands in the lunchroom of Rich Pond Elementary (Warren County) watching students walk to lunch, he notices the shoes of a young boy.
“Your shoes are untied,” says Costellow.
He takes the boy over to a table and helps him tie them, asking him how his day is going and if he has any worries. Afterwards he gives a smile and goes back to watching the lines of students. For Costellow, this is one of the things that makes Rich Pond a school worthy of being named not just once, but twice, as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
“This school, it’s more than just teachers and students,” he said. “We’re a family here.”
Costellow, who has been the principal at Rich Pond since 2013, says the school’s success relies on that family atmosphere and “meeting the needs of every child that comes through the doors.”
“Academics is just one part of what we do well,” he said. “Our staff is just relentless in trying to help kids be successful in a variety of ways.”
Warren County’s Rich Pond Elementary School is one of two Kentucky public schools to be named this year as a Blue Ribbon winner for the second time. There are only eight public schools in Kentucky to earn the award twice since the program began in 1982.
That history has helped Rich Pond through, what Costellow feels, is the school’s biggest challenge at the moment.
“Growth is our biggest challenge right now,” he said. “We get about 50 new students each year, which requires hiring new staff to meet student needs. But we’ve been a successful school for so long, I think it really helps because we typically have a great pool of applicants.”
Jenny Pierson, a 6th-grade math teacher, has been teaching at “the Pond” since 1988 and has spent her entire career at the school.
“Often people look at me oddly when I say that I have spent my entire career here at Rich Pond,” said Pierson. “Not only have I spent my entire career here at The Pond, I have lived my life here as well. Not many can say in this day and age that they have spent their entire career in one place, but this is Rich Pond; a place worth sticking around for for your entire career.”
Pierson, who was a teacher at the school when it was awarded its first Blue Ribbon award in 1996, says that the relationships between the staff and the students are what she feels is the true foundation for the school’s success.
“There are so many of these ‘family’ moments here,” she said. “I have had students that needed transportation to doctor appointments so I took the student and parent to the appointments. We have many teachers here that will provide food, clothing, transportation, a helping hand to our students and families.
“I know that the meaning of a Blue Ribbon school is based on overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. But in reality, in order to achieve these things, you have to have relationships and connections as the foundation of your school.”
On the day that Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt visited Rich Pond Elementary to help it celebrate its award, Costellow asked a few students what it meant to be a Blue Ribbon School.
“Pride,” said a young boy.
“That’s it!” said Costellow.