John Dodig, the Staples High School principal, knows his school is exceptional.

The school boasts a 100 percent graduation rate, with 96 percent of the graduates going on to college. "Of that number, 61 percent are going to the most competitive or highly competitive colleges," said Dodig.

Now, Staples has been recognized nationally for that record as an "exemplary high performing school" by the U.S. Department of Education, which has named Staples a National Blue Ribbon School.

Dodig said he's pleased the school received the award since the designation "now gives us a chance to explain who we are to a wider audience."

But, he added, Staples staff, parents and students already knew Staples was "doing everything right."

Elaine Whitney, the Board of Education chairwoman, agreed.

"This honor represents the dedication, professionalism and collaboration of Principal John Dodig and the entire Staples staff, as well as Dr. Elliott Landon and the district leadership team," she said. Landon is the school superintendent.

"It also reflects the commitment of our students, families and the Westport community to high-caliber education," she added.

In addition, Whitney cited "the excellent work being done in our elementary and middle schools is the foundation for corresponding excellence in the high school," and added, "the board appreciates the respective contributions of each one of our staff members throughout the district."

Dodig said he had received a call from the state Department of Education last year asking him if he'd like to apply for the award. "They said data about Staples, including CAPT and SAT scores, its low absentee rate, etc., showed we had an exceptional school and they would like Staples to represent Connecticut," he said.

After discussing the application with the school superintendent, Dodig took on the task of compiling "all kinds of data" that would be considered for the award.

"I had to do eight essays, covering all topics like instruction and academics," he said. "It took a lot of time and effort," but he feels it paid off with the national recognition this month.

Dodig -- who said he isn't a fan of state and federal mandates, including teacher evaluations, as a strict measure of educational excellence -- said that schools like Staples, which are judged to be "exemplary," should be exempt from those mandates for three years if they receive a National Blue Ribbon School Award.

Three other schools in Connecticut are recipients of this year's national Blue Ribbon School honors, including Weston High School.

"It's a tremendous honor and speaks to the Weston community and how it values education," said Lisa Wolak-Deorio, the WHS principal, who began as a teacher at the school 28 years ago. "I'm thrilled and proud of our teachers, staff, students and parental support."

Founded in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' academic achievement, according to the U.S. Department of Education website.

Since the program's founding, the U. S. Department of Education has bestowed the award on more than 7,000 schools around the nation.