Paramount charter is the only Indianapolis school to win federal ‘Blue Ribbon’ honors in 2018

An Indianapolis charter school once known mostly for its unusual agriculture programs is the city’s latest recipient of a federal accolade for academic performance.

Paramount School of Excellence was one of four schools in Indiana this year to be awarded “Blue Ribbon” status by the U.S. Education Department. The honor does not bring any financial rewards but is considered a feather in the cap for schools that earn it.

To be considered for Blue Ribbon status, schools must have test scores in the top 15 percent in their state with no significant gaps among students from different demographics, or have shown “extraordinary progress” in closing those gaps. A total of 349 schools nationally won the prize this year.

A racially diverse school that serves mostly students from low-income families, Paramount has been honored before. The school has received a string of “A” grades from Indiana, and two years ago it was one of 10 local schools cited for helping students from low-income families compete with more affluent peers.

Executive Director Tommy Reddicks told Chalkbeat at the time that the school had raised scores by using data to identify students who need help. The programs that set Paramount apart from the outside — such as an urban farm, a planetarium, and a cheese-making facility — are all tools to help students learn academic skills, he said.

“There’s a lot of rigor, and a lot of intense work that we have to do to move kids from below grade level to at grade level in a calendar year,” Reddicks said. “They won’t survive that process if we can’t scaffold the process with excitement and real hands-on experiences.”

Paramount opened a second campus this year.