Since the e-mail announcing that her school was named a Blue Ribbon School landed in her inbox, Sister Linda Larsen, principal at St. John the Evangelist School in Severna Park, has been a busy woman.
The prestigious national education award has brought droves of congratulatory phone calls. And local newspapers, as well as Catholic publications, have been lining up for interviews.
"My office is pretty messy because I haven't been able to keep up with my work because the fame is taking over," Larsen, clearly ecstatic, said in a phone interview last week.
The highlight of it all: receiving a call from Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien.
"I don't even think he knows what I look like!" Larsen said. "I said, 'Well, this is not every day I hear from the archbishop."
The Severna Park elementary school was one of two in the county - the other was Broadneck Elementary in Arnold - and eight across the state to receive the national recognition, which honors schools for high achievement levels and/or making significant progress in closing the achievement gap between African-American and white students.
School officials noted the application process for the Blue Ribbon award is especially competitive among private and parochial schools. The Council for American Private Education nominates just 50 schools each year.
Nationally, 320 schools were recognized this year. Over the past 26 years, the program has honored more than 5,800 schools. St. John the Evangelist, which was founded in 1959, is the first elementary school and the ninth ever in the Baltimore Archdiocese to win the national award, according to Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese. Little Flower School, a Catholic school in Bethesda, was also designated a national Blue Ribbon School this year.
O'Brien, in a separate interview, lauded the accomplishment as a testament to the sustainability of Catholic schools, which in cities across the country have been forced to close because of financial difficulties.
"Compared to many other schools, Catholic schools operate on a shoestring," O'Brien said. "This underscores the roles of parents who pitch in with such vigor, and teachers whose salaries aren't so high, the whole team, pastors and administrators. It tells the rest of the Catholic population what we're doing should continue."
O'Brien added that when the awards are passed out again, the archdiocese should be home to schools with "five more awards like that. We'll be gearing up for more success."
Rich Huebler, school board president and parent to a pair of daughters - one in second grade and the other in third - and a son in fifth grade at St. John, distributed blue ribbons to teachers and other staff after the news was announced on Monday.
"One of the most spectacular things is when all the cars drop the children off in the morning, they literally run into the building," Huebler said. "It makes me feel good every time I drop the kids off. ... It's unbelievable."
At Broadneck Elementary, which also won the designation, students and teachers were "thrilled" to get the news, said Principal Allison Lee.
While praising teachers, whom Lee described as "really passionate about their jobs," she also said the parents have played an integral role in making the school a success.
"I can't overstate the parent component," Lee said. "They make sure the kids get their homework done. They come to meetings. Quite honestly, we're very fortunate."
Lee said the school, which is planning a formal ceremony later in the year, distributed flowers to teachers and other staff members in appreciation. Students, too, will receive certificates recognizing the achievement.
"We're going to try to make a big deal out of it," Lee said.