Two Utah schools were recently recognized for their academic excellence by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

On Sept. 30, Duncan named 337 schools -- 287 public and 50 private -- as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools. Lakeridge Jr. High in Orem and Lincoln Elementary in Hyrum were among those listed.

Schools are chosen based on one of two criteria: overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Both Utah schools were chosen for academic excellence and were named Exemplary High Performing Schools. This means both schools are among Utah’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests, according to the Department of Education news release.

When it was established in 1975, Lakeridge was the top junior high school in the Alpine School District, according to Principal Kathy Knudsen. But by 2002, the school’s poverty rates increased from 14 to 48 percent and minority populations grew from five to 30 percent. Once high-performing averages were reduced to only 63 percent of Lakeridge students achieving grade levels in English and only 55 percent in Math, she said.

In an effort to improve, in 2006 the school implemented a new system designed to provide students with more teacher time if they had not mastered a concept during class. Each day, students are allotted 30-minute FLEX time to visit teachers for additional support.

The year before FLEX was implemented, 46 percent of 9th grade students failed at least one class, Knudsen said. Last year, that number was reduced to just over three percent.

“We want to make sure they have every opportunity open to them,” she said. “We’re in a cycle of constant improvement.”

Students who don’t need the extra help instead participate in enrichment activities, such as sports activities, free time and computer games.

The department will honor the 337 schools at a recognition ceremony held Nov. 10-11 in Washington, D.C. Started in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has given this award to just under 7,900 schools in America. For more information,

Keri Lunt Stevens covers Community & Business News in Utah County. Contact her at (801) 344-2556, and on Twitter: @keriinreallife

Keri Lunt Stevens covers Community News in Utah County.

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