WASHINGTON — Brian Hoelscher says he had two major goals when he took over 11 years ago as principal at Central Intermediate School.

One was to have his students score better on standardized tests than students at Dunlap Middle School and Dunlap Valley Middle School. That happened last school year.

"Those Dunlap schools are the standard of excellence in the area. We were always chasing them," Hoelscher said.

His second goal was for Central Intermediate to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. That happened Thursday.

Central Intermediate students and teachers cheered at a midday assembly in Holford Gym when they saw a photo of their school appear on a big screen on the gym floor during an online announcement of the 2017 Blue Ribbon recipients.

"Our staff knew we were getting the Blue Ribbon. The students didn't," Hoelscher said. "The assembly was a big mystery to them."

It's no mystery to Hoelscher why the school earned the prestigious honor for academic excellence.

"It underscores the hard work this staff and previous staffs have done creating a high performing school that's getting better every year," he said.

"Getting this recognition is especially gratifying because we've had such a high turnover in teachers recently. We've brought in 15 new teachers (among 63 staff members) between last year and this year."

There are 733 students in grades 4-8 at Central Intermediate, which has been an intermediate school since 2009, when K-3 Central Primary School opened in the growing school district.

Central Intermediate was previously known as Central Grade School when it was K-8. The school's early history includes a log cabin in the 1830s at what is now Wilmor Road and Dallas Road and a one-room schoolhouse at that site in 1880. The current building is at 1301 Eagle Road.

This was the first time the school was nominated by the state to be a National Blue Ribbon School. The recognition program is in its 35th year.

Hoelscher said he hoped to talk at the assembly before U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos began the Blue Ribbon announcement program, "but we had a difficult time getting the online feed and we were dealing with that. The feed came on just before Secretary DeVos' opening remarks.

"Everyone watched for about 10 minutes before one of the pictures of our school we submitted in our application came on the screen during a slide show. We were right after Central Catholic High School in Bloomington."

After the cheering died down, Hoelcher got his opportunity to speak about the Blue Ribbon program.

 Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.