JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The U.S. Department of Education recognized Fairmont Elementary School as a Blue Ribbon School, distinguishing it as an exemplary high-performing school.

Only 11 schools throughout Northeast Tennessee have received the award over more than three decades. The last school to receive the award was Towne Acres Elementary School in 2021.

Former principal of Fairmont Elementary School, Carol McGill, retired in May and was part of the process of the school receiving its first Blue Ribbon School recognition in 2011.

“It was surreal the first time,” said McGill. “It felt validating for our parents, community and student success.”

Schools are nominated by the U.S. Department of Education based on school test scores. McGill said only six schools in Tennessee are chosen, and only two of those schools can be title schools.

A wall commemorates the first award won by Fairmont Elementary School. It can be seen at the front entrance of the school. (Photo: WJHL).

Fairmont is a Title I school, meaning the school has a high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“I’m so proud of our students and teachers and staff,” said Fairmont Elementary School principal, JoDee Dotson. “They do such a great job and work really, really hard every day. It’s just an honor to be recognized for our hard work at Fairmont.”

“It starts in the lower grades, all the way in pre-K up,” said fourth-grade math and science teacher Dianna Cox. “Those teachers are all working so hard so that by the time that [students] get to the tested grades, the kids are already, we call it ‘Fair-a-mitized.’ They’ve worked really hard. They know how to be very successful.”

School leaders said they put a big emphasis on reading at Fairmont. Dotson said since the beginning of the school year, the school’s more than 500 students have read over 26,000 books.

“When you look around the building and you look around the work that is being done, you say to yourself, ‘this is just a perfect example of public education at its very best,'” Director of Accountability and School Improvement for Johnson City Schools, Robbie Anderson said.

School staff will travel to Washington D.C. in November to receive the award. Dotson said the school will hold a celebration of its own, during which administrators plan to give each student a blue ribbon to commemorate the accomplishment.

The full list of schools that were recognized by the U.S. Department of Education this year can be found here.