Principal Madelyn Devers said staff members at Mohawk Elementary School in Bensenville were excited long before this week, when the school earned one of the top honors in the nation.
Instead, it started months ago when a woman from the Illinois Department of Education's data division called Devers, saying she was personally tracking Mohawk's improvements on state test scores. As a result, the woman said she wanted to nominate Mohawk as a 2011 National Blue Ribbon School.
Often times, Devers said, schools nominate themselves for this award, or they are nominated by parent groups.
"Her call came as quite an honor and makes this really special," said Devers.
This week Mohawk was among 19 Illinois schools to earn the 2011 National Blue Ribbon from the U.S. Department of Education, and among 304 in the country.
Some winning schools boast students who earn high scores on standardized tests. Other winners have at least 40 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds that improve performance on state tests to high levels.
Mohawk, a school with more than 76 percent Hispanic students, faces demographic challenges while still succeeding academically. According to the school's 2010 state report card, more than 65 percent have limited English proficiency and nearly half the students are low-income.
Still, last year Mohawk boasted several academic accomplishments. The school met Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind mandate and exceeded state standards in both reading and math.
Its math scores were particularly notable, with nearly 95 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards. This is nearly a jump of 6 percentage points since 2008.
Devers credits the school's professional learning environment, which she says focuses on the needs of each child. Every month, she meets with each teacher and reviews class lists to see what extra help students might need. Mohawk staff also collaborates with upper levels of administration on curriculum, too.
The trick, Devers says, is catching students long before they fall through the cracks.
"We are working together to analyze student work and providing what's needed," said Devers.
This is the first time any of the five schools in Bensenville Elementary District 2 earned the National Blue Ribbon award. Mohawk will be honored with other winners during a conference and award ceremony Nov. 14-15 in Washington, D.C.
And while Devers said it would be wonderful to win again in 2012, she insists academic achievement remains Mohawk's first priority -- not accolades.
"Our goal is always just to do what's best for the children," she said.