Sabetha Elementary earns National Blue Ribbon School award

The 2021 National Blue Ribbon School banner awarded to Sabetha Elementary School is unveiled at the Celebration held on Tuesday, September 28. Picture are (L-R) Sara Toedman, former principal; Rusty Willis, current principal; Jennifer Gatz, Prairie Hills USD 113 Assistant Superintendent; and Todd Evans, Prairie Hills USD 113 Superintendent.

Five Kansas schools, including Sabetha Elementary School, have been designated as a 2021 National Blue Ribbon School.

The mission of Sabetha Elementary School (SES) is to provide an environment where the school, family and community work together to help students develop skills to become self-directed learners. This proved true when SES was designated a 2021 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. 

SES was one out of 325 schools recognized nationally, and one out of five schools recognized in the State of Kansas. Other Kansas Schools receiving the prestigious designation were Grandview Elementary School, El Dorado Unified School District 490; Ellsworth Elementary School, Ellsworth USD 327; Roosevelt Elementary School, Hays USD 489; and Mahaffie Elementary School, Olathe USD 233.

According to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., the recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. The National Blue Ribbon School award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools.

Prairie Hills USD 113 Superintendent Todd Evans said six years ago, USD 113 made the decision to overhaul their assessment program, intervention process for struggling learners, and methods to further challenge students. 

“We teach first by example,” Evans said. “Some skills we want our kids to have include perseverance, being goal oriented, and being focused on solutions not on our problems. These are all qualities the staff of Sabetha Elementary School modeled for our kids as they have risen to the challenge of identifying what we want our kids to know, and determining what to do when they don’t know it. This has not been easy, but we have been supported by the professionals of our district.”

“I am proud of our students and parents whose efforts have supported the work of the school,” Evans said. “Parents are students’ first teachers. This accomplishment is a reflection of a team of people who have worked together with one passion, to equip our students to have the skills to be successful in life. Congratulations Sabetha Elementary School staff, students and parents, for being designated a National Blue Ribbon School!”

Current SES principal Rusty Willis said she is grateful for everyone’s – including former SES principal Sara Toedman – dedication to learning.

“The staff and students of Sabetha Elementary School are my heroes, and I can never thank them enough for their dedication to learning. These are people who give their all every day to help improve the lives of others and our community. They deserve to celebrate this accomplishment, along with our former principal Sara Toedman who led the efforts for this award. We are grateful to the rest of USD 113 for their support, as well as to the parents of our students and the entire Sabetha community who are always willing to support our efforts. We also appreciate the Kansas Department of Education, and the United States Department of Education for recognizing the ongoing commitment that SES puts into the learning and growth of our students in hopes of a brighter future for us all.”

The Blue Ribbon program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools in one of two performance categories: Exemplary High Performing and Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing.

Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools are among the state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s subgroups and all students. In the high-performing category, schools are recognized for being among the state’s highest-performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.

All Kansas schools were recognized in the Exemplary High Performing Schools category.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly congratulated all Kansas honorees on their designations, and U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona all honorees.

“Congratulations to Grandview Elementary, Ellsworth Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary, Mahaffie Elementary, and Sabetha Elementary on receiving the prestigious National Blue Ribbon award,” said Governor Laura Kelly. “This recognition showcases your tireless efforts to support your students and communities – no matter the challenges. Trust that my administration will continue to invest in your success so we can provide a world-class education to every Kansas kid.”

“This year’s cohort of honorees demonstrates what is possible when committed educators and school leaders create vibrant, welcoming, and affirming school cultures where rich teaching and learning can flourish,” Dr. Cardona said. “I commend all our Blue Ribbon honorees for working to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional and mental health needs. In the face of unprecedented circumstances, you found creative ways to engage, care for, protect, and teach our children. Blue Ribbon Schools have so much to offer and can serve as a model for other schools and communities so that we can truly build back better.”

About The Blue Ribbon Program

In its 39th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed about 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools, with some schools winning multiple awards.

The U.S. Department of Education invites National Blue Ribbon School nominations from the top education official in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Department of Defense Education Activity and the Bureau of Indian Education. The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) nominates private schools. Up to 420 public and private schools may be nominated each year.

To view the full list of 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools, visit

Photographs and brief descriptions of the 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools are available at

Heather Stewart222 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.


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