BROWNWOOD, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – East Elementary School in Brownwood was named one out of 31 Texas public school nominees for the National Blue Ribbon Award from the US Department of Education. The former principal responsible for bringing the once F-rated school to an A-rated school says she’s proud of her work and even more so, of her students. But the work is far from over for these students.

The National Blue Ribbon Award is granted to public and private schools all over the country whose students perform at above-average levels and where significant improvements were made.

Former principal of East Elementary, Dee Dee Wright took her post in 2019 when the school was labeled an F-rated school. Upon arrival, she said she never liked or used that term, but said she was determined that her students were able to bring the schools rating up to an A.

“I mean, it’s amazing and I just believe it’s a gift from God… We did not settle for mediocrity. We were going to be the best,” Wright praised and recalled of her journey with East Elementary.

Wright continued to praise hers and her students efforts, “To receive recognition because you are a high-achieving academic school… We finally realized, ‘Wow, all of this hard work is paying off.'”

In her first school year with East Elementary, just like the rest of the world, Wright faced the tough change of pace in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the Big Country.

At that time, remote learning became the norm. However, like many other educators, Wright struggled at first to engage her students and ensure that they all have equal resources to continue on the path towards becoming an A-rated school. Most importantly, though, to make sure each child would receive a good, deserved education.

“We provided packets for our kids and so we had certain times [when] the parents would drive through and pick up a packet and drop off their packet,” Wright explained. “And then we would know how many students received those packets.”

To her credit and for ease to families, if a student didn’t get a packet, Wright said, “I made deliveries to their house so we would have 100% packet pick up.”

It was Wright’s dedication and diligence to her students’ education that brought the school through the ranks, despite students coming from differing home situations.

Although no longer principal of East Elementary School, Wright said she has confidence in the school’s staff and faculty to continue the hard work and inspire the kids.

“It’s already continuing, you know, just the great things in place we have here at East. Christi Burks is the principal and Jennifer Gwathmey is the assistant principal, and they’re rock stars,” Wright boasted. “What they’re going to touch is going to turn to gold, and they’re going to do great things.”

Meanwhile, a fifth grade English and Language Arts Teacher at East Elementary, Jay Adams, told KTAB/KRBC that while he’s proud of his students, this is not the finish line.

”East has been chosen as a blue ribbon school, it’s still not sinking in 100%,” said Adams. “It’s not an end game, it’s not an end all. We are continuously growing.”

In a statement Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott addressed the 31 Texas schools awarded:

“Texas is leading the nation in education because we continue to ensure our schools have the resources and support they need to foster a positive and promising future for young Texans. Being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School is a distinguished honor, and I want to congratulate the students, teachers, administrators, and parents of these 31 schools for their hard work and dedication to excellence in our schools.”

The National Blue Ribbon Award recognizes and highlights educators’ work with students in ensuring each child receives a strong foundation to master the fundamentals in their individual educations.