They knew they were in the running to be named a National School of Character.
However, Principal Debbie Talley and guidance counselor Debbie Minichbauer had no idea that the school had actually received the coveted title until school district officials Amber Norris and Daryl Saunders walked into the school office Friday afternoon carrying balloons and a cake.
"We got it? We got it?" asked an excited Minichbauer the moment she spotted the congratulatory balloons. Talley and Minichbauer then promptly headed to the school's media center to share the news, and the cake, with Cimino's faculty.
Cimino Elementary School is the first school in Hillsborough County to be named a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership, explained Saunders, the director of the Project RESPECT Grant for the school system.
Cimino is one of 60 Hillsborough County elementary schools involved in the character education grant, known as Project RESPECT, which encompasses 11 principles of character education that not only teach character traits to students but involves the faculty, parents and community, said Talley.
Twice before, in 2009-10 and 2011-12, Cimino was named a State School of Character. Schools named as State Schools of Character are eligible to apply for the national award.
Minichbauer was part of the team of Cimino faculty members who filled out the lengthy application for the national honor. That was followed in April by a visit from the Project RESPECT selection committee.
"The State and National Schools of Character program is not a competition—but rather an opportunity to receive feedback as well as recognition for growth and excellence in the area of character development," said Saunders. "Schools gain insights into what high-quality character education looks like in schools, helping them to improve and strengthen their own programs."
As part of the program, schools have the opportunity to reflect on their practices and programs and assess their level of implementation against a recognized standard of excellence, explained Saunders. The schools then receive guidance, feedback and recognition at no cost—other than their time.
For Talley, Friday's surprise announcement was the perfect way to cap off the school's year-long 10-year anniversary celebration as well as Teacher Appreciation Week.
"It couldn't have come at a better time," said Talley, who has been with Cimino since it opened, the past six years as principal. "It's the culmination of a belief that we touch lives academically as well as core foundations."
"What a surprise," said Minichbauer. "I'm still in shock."
In February, the Character Education Partnership named 22 public schools, three private schools, one charter school, and two school districts as National Finalists in the 2012 National Schools of Character program.
“These schools are using character education to shape cultures that encourage high student achievement, mutual respect and integrity among students, staff, and faculty,” said CEP President Mark Hyatt. “The results show that character education really works to transform schools into learning communities for all stakeholders.”
Schools recognized as Schools of Character are asked to help other schools transform their school cultures. Describing the program as a path to school improvement through high-quality character education, CEP has offered the National Schools of Character program to elementary, middle and high schools since 1998.
The 28 national finalists were selected from an applicant pool of 126 schools and districts across the United States based on the quality of their written applications. They represent 15 states and Puerto Rico, with Missouri having the highest number at six.
Then the winners were named this week.
Cimino and the other winners will be honored at the 19th National Forum on Character Education, to be held November 1-3 in Washington, D.C.
The 11 Principles of Character
- The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation of good character.
- The school defines “character” comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing.
- The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development.
- The school creates a caring community.
- The school provides students with opportunities for moral action.
- The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.
- The school fosters students’ self-motivation.
- The school staff is an ethical learning community that shares responsibility for character education and adheres to the same core values that guide the students.
- The school fosters shared leadership and long-range support of the character education initiative.
- The school engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort.
- The school regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students manifest good character.
For more information, visit the Character Education Partnership website.