University High School

University High School was awarded the 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools award. Of the 325 recipients of the award across the country, University High School was the only high school from Arizona to make the list.

Tolleson’s University High School was awarded the 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools prize, making it the only high school in Arizona to make the list. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recognized 325 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2021. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. 

“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,” Cardona said.

“I commend this school and 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.”

The coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.  

The Department of Education recognizes all schools in one of two performance categories — Exemplary High-Performing Schools and Exemplary Achievement Gap-Closing Schools — based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates. 

University High School was nominated as an Exemplary High-Performing School, which means the program is among the state’s highest-performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.

Principal Vickie Landis said the award reflects University High’s hard work, especially following a year of school closures and online learning. 

“We were excited, especially during this time of the pandemic, excited for our students, excited for our teachers and excited for our community who supports us, and it’s true validation of all the work that goes into the investment that goes into our students, out teachers, into our community, and it just couldn’t be at a better time when it’s a difficult time in our society. We are excited and looking forward to celebrating,” Landis said. 

Superintendent Nora Gutierrez said Tolleson Union High School District’s commitment to academic achievement is one of the core reasons the school finds such success, in addition to the dedication of its students and teachers.

“I don’t start a meeting, I don’t end a meeting without always reminding everyone of our purpose, and our purpose is academic achievement for our students,” Gutierrez said. 

“University High has just truly demonstrated that not only do they focus on academic achievement, but they’ve gone above and beyond and receiving the National Blue Ribbon as the only high school in the state is extremely telling of exactly who University High School is.”

Gutierrez said that she’s proud to represent the state as the only high school to make the list, and a minority district.  

“We are a majority minority district, and that is extremely important to me because our students in the Tolleson Union High School District are just as capable as any other student throughout the United States, and this Blue Ribbon achievement validates that.” 

Additionally, Landis said University High teachers played a major role in receiving the award. 

“Our teachers are very dedicated and highly accountable to one another so they consistently attend training and go to AP trainings, they’re working on their own professional development,” Landis said. “They also dedicate their time, they’ll come in early and they stay late. They’re a great group of dedicated professionals.”

Landis and Gutierrez agreed the community’s support is one of the selling points of the high school and the city of Tolleson. 

“It is a community that embraces the school, and is extremely supportive of the school, the students and the teachers. The city is extremely supportive of the school and wants to see success,” Gutierrez said. “We are one familia, and we celebrate and support each other. And you don’t feel this in most communities, but without a doubt, it exists here, and this community is one whole.”