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Independence Elementary named 2023 National School of Character

image icon of National School of Character

Independence Elementary School of the Francis Howell School District (FHSD) is among just 36 schools in the nation to be named a 2023 National School of Character. The designation was bestowed by, a national advocate and leader for character development in schools and communities.

“We are pleased to announce and celebrate the schools and school districts that have earned this national recognition,” said Dr. Arthur Schwartz, President of “Each of these schools has put in place a comprehensive approach to help students understand, care about, and consistently practice the character strengths that will help them flourish in school, in relationships, in the workplace, and as citizens.”

Since its inception, the National Schools of Character program has impacted over three million students, staff, parents, and community members. The schools and districts that apply must meet the rigorous standards articulated in’s 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, a framework for whole-school improvement.

Independence Elementary has a long and rich history of character integration and has persevered through changes and challenges to continue to build and nurture a caring community. The school’s core values of Empathy, Responsibility, Honesty, and Friendship are the backbone of Independence’s character initiative and permeate every aspect of school life. 

“The evaluation team spoke highly of our caring school community, and we want to thank each and every one of you for making it so! Your ongoing support is appreciated and we are so thankful to work in such a supportive community that supports our character education program,” said Principal  Emily Pavia. ”Congratulations to our students, staff, families and friends for this recognition!”

To be selected as a 2023 National School of Character, Independence Elementary completed a robust application process and hosted a site visit for a team of evaluators. 

Strengths noted by the evaluation team include Independence’s clearly defined core values, opportunities for student choice and voice through student leadership programs, the efforts of staff to build connections with students and foster self-motivation, and the school’s ability to engage families and community as partners in the character initiative. 

The evaluation team praised Independence for creating a caring community with many opportunities for engagement and involvement, and credited leadership for setting the vision and providing support for staff to carry it through.

“Principal [Emily] Pavia is a champion of character for Independence Elementary. She puts forth great effort to support the teachers with training, book studies, time for character practices, and more to help grow the culture within the school,” noted one evaluator. 

Each year, certifies schools and districts at the state and national level that demonstrate a dedicated focus on character development, which has a positive effect on academic achievement, student behavior, and school climate.

This year, Independence Elementary was one of only four schools in the region that were previously recognized as National Schools of Character that reapplied and received the designation for the third time. Independence was first named a National School of Character in 2013, and again in 2018. 

“There is an ethic of care at these schools,” said Lori Soifer, who directs the Schools of Character program. “Working together with students, parents and community members, these schools are creating stronger communities focused on character.” will honor the 2023 National Schools and Districts of Character at its next International Forum, to be held in Washington D.C., November 6-7, 2023.