Westside Elementary had reason to celebrate Tuesday afternoon.
The Norfolk school was one of just two in all of Nebraska to be named a 2016 National Title I Distinguished School.
"I'm more proud of the fact that we never set out to win an award. We never sat around during a meeting and said, 'We need to go get this award,’ " Principal Angie Baumann said. "It's just every day the staff is focused on what our students need and we are continually working to help our students be successful. If we run into some bumps, we meet again and we try to figure out how we reach that high level that we expect of them."
Westside qualified for the award in what’s known as category one, which recognizes exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years.
The increases Westside has seen in test scores over the years helped them qualify.
"When we look at our test scores from five years ago to our most recent scores, we have continued to improve," Baumann said.
She pointed out that in 2011, 71 percent of Westside students on average scored at least proficient in the state’s reading exam and 54 percent of students scored at least proficient in math.
But by 2015, the numbers jumped to 90 percent of students scoring at least proficient in reading and 84 percent scoring at least proficient in math.
"This really is a prestigious award and it was given to Westside based upon the achievements of these fine, young, outstanding students," said Dr. Jami Jo Thompson, superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools. "These students work very hard every day and they deserve this recognition for their efforts."
But the award is a reflection of more than just students' test scores, Baumann said. It's about the day-to-day work that happens within the school and the relationships that are formed.
Considering that Baumann was once a student at Westside Elementary, she knows that first-hand.
"Many of the students and staff know that I'm a Westside native, so that makes this award even more special. Each day as I was here, my teachers helped me to learn to read, they helped me learn my spelling words, they helped me learn my math facts and — believe it or not, kids — all of that happened without computers and Chromebooks and iPads," she said. "Through all of those years, I never felt like I was a test score. It was always about the relationship I had with those teachers."
Several of Baumann's teachers were in the audience during the presentation.
Baumann and teachers Heather Werner and Heather Thompson traveled to Houston, Texas, on Wednesday to receive the award.
While Baumann joked that they would be on a plane while the students were in reading class, she and the teachers will have some work to do.
"We will actually be in classes while we're there, learning new things to help all of you," she said. "So although we will have a nice trip, we will be learning as well."
In addition to remarks from Baumann and Thompson, the ceremony included videos featuring students and staff members from Westside and the kids singing the school song — all to celebrate the achievement and to encourage further success.
"I think this staff is a believer in the fact that if we can help our kids be successful here at Westside, when they go on to the middle school and the junior high and the high school and beyond that they will continue to seek that success and want to feel that success in life," Baumann said. "We're creating and helping grow some pretty awesome students out there."