Last week was a banner week for St. Mary Catholic School of Newton, as it was recognized as a Banner School for the second time in three years by the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. St. Mary was one of only two schools in the diocese to earn the honor.

The Catholic Diocese of Wichita has awarded Banner School for 21 years, and it is quite the accomplishment as the diocese serves all Catholic schools in the south central and the southeast region of the state, from McPherson in the northwest corner to Pittsburg in the southeast. In total, 39 schools and 10,600 students are served by the diocese. That makes it the ninth largest school system in the state of Kansas, according to superintendent Bob Voboril.

“The Banner School is awarded to schools that we see as having been excellent for an entire year,” Voboril said.

“It's a pretty elite process. It's their highest honor,” said St. Mary principal Philip Stutey. “It just recognizes that they feel like we're doing what we need to be doing as a school to move our mission forward.”

Both the Catholic School Council of the diocese (similar to a public school's board of education) and the staff in the central office, like Voboril and assistant superintendents Matt McKee and Jamie Finkeldei, work jointly to decide which schools receive the designation each year and a number of criteria are used.

Voboril noted the deciding parties look at the mission of the school (how well schools implement the catholic mission of forming disciples of Christ), academic excellence, administrative excellence and enrollment (what schools are doing to encourage increases or maintain enrollment) in determining which facilities will be named Banner Schools.

Some other factors are incorporated into those four main categories, Stutey said, and personal visits by Voboril and Bishop Carl Kemme within the past year may have helped St. Mary in earning Banner School, which he said made the award stand out even more.

“I think that's a great kind of stamp of approval, if you will, that they see the same things that we see on a daily basis,” Stutey said.

Outside of the Blue Ribbon designation handed out at the national level, there are few higher awards that a Catholic school in Kansas can receive, especially after the Governor's Award of Educational Excellence was seemingly discontinued following changes to state assessment testing.

Receiving the Banner School honor says a lot about St. Mary. According to Voboril, it speaks not only to the commitment of the principal and teachers, but the parents and priests as well. Maybe nothing says that better, he noted, than the collaboration within the school.

“I have found that cultural interaction in that school is so healthy. It's worth pointing out that this is a school that demonstrates academic excellence even though about 60 percent of the students qualify for free hot lunch, so that's really a reflection on all those folks,” Voboril said.

“Everybody earned it together. It's no one person. It's a team effort and we just appreciate everybody who helps out our school,” Stutey said. “(We're) very blessed that people outside of the school are seeing what we see inside of the school.”