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posted: 4/2/2013 5:57 PM

Neuqua Valley claims second top Grammy

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No fooling, Neuqua Valley High School's music program is again the best in the nation.

The Grammy Foundation, which earlier this year honored Adele, Mumford and Sons and The Black Keys, has named Neuqua Valley High School this year's National Grammy Signature School.

The honor recognizes "top U.S. public high schools that are making an outstanding commitment to music education." Neuqua Valley was previously named the top school for music education in 2005.

As the nation's top high school for music excellence, the Grammy Foundation will present Neuqua Valley with a check for $10,000 along with its own Grammy statue.

Neuqua's Fine Arts Department Chairman and Band Director Charles "Chip" Staley said he got a phone call at home two weeks ago alerting him to the award but decided to wait until the Grammy Foundation made it's official announcement on Monday. Then he realized Monday was April Fools' Day.

"We decided to wait and let them know on (Tuesday) because April Fools' Day seemed like not the best day for such great news," Staley said Tuesday.

But social media beat him to the punch.

"All of the kids were all over Facebook with the news as soon as the Grammys posted it so they all knew by the time they got to school (Monday) anyway," he said. "It all worked out."

Indian Prairie Unit District 204's other two high schools, Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley, also were selected as semifinalists this year.

"It's remarkable that all three of our high schools were selected as semifinalists, and truly wonderful to have one recognized as the top school in the country," said Superintendent Kathy Birkett.

The selection process for Grammy Signature Schools begins each year in August when the Grammy Foundation mails notifications to more than 20,000 public high schools requesting information about each school's music program. Applications are completed and submitted online in October.

After the applications are scored, finalists are identified and asked to submit additional documentation, such as recordings of school concerts, sample concert programs and repertoire, which is then reviewed by an independent blue-ribbon committee of top music educators and professionals to determine the schools that merit Grammy Signature School status.

"We took about a three-year break from submitting materials after 2005. We then came back and were named a Grammy Gold school in 2009 and 2011," Staley said. "But this year, it's too hard to pinpoint exactly what put us over the top. We just had the total package to gain recognition for a second time."

Staley said the fact Neuqua has a "world class orchestra" and a "stellar band," helps when nominations come out. But the submitted recordings are what he thinks allows judges to really see the program's strengths.

As for the prize money, Staley said the faculty eventually will decide how to make it best meet the department's needs.

"The foundation would like us to purchase something to further enhance our already superb program and they'd like us to put some money into a message of advocacy for arts in the schools," Slater said. "So enhancement and advocacy is where it's going."

The Grammy will likely be delivered to the school during a scheduled concert in the near future.

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