Paul Kirk, principal of Roslyn Road Elementary School in Barrington, says his school's success comes not just from factors inside the school, but outside it as well.
"We're lucky in that we have all our constituents on the same page," he said. "It's our teachers and our students, but also our parents. When parents reinforce our messages at home, learning really takes off. It's special to be a part of."
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Roslyn Road is one of three schools from Northwest Cook County to receive the prestigious National Blue Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education this year. The other local recipients are Twin Groves Middle School in Buffalo Grove and St. Peter Lutheran School in Arlington Heights.
The National Blue Ribbon program recognizes public and private schools that demonstrate exceptionally high student performance or exemplary improvement in performance. A total of 286 schools across the country, including 21 in Illinois, achieved National Blue Ribbon designation this year.
Representatives from all three local winners recently got back from an awards ceremony last week in Washington, D.C.
"It was pretty awe-inspiring," Kirk said.
Roslyn Road's application for the award cited the school's commitment to reading proficiency and the open, collaborative atmosphere that exists among its teachers and staff. Roslyn teacher Laura Gilleland, one of three people who attended the awards ceremony, said that collaboration is what makes working at Roslyn Road a rewarding experience.
"The door is always open here for teachers to approach one another with questions or problems," she said. "We really work together. There's a great feeling in this school."
Bruce Rudi, principal of St. Peter Lutheran School, said the Blue Ribbon designation is an affirmation of the work that the entire school community does every day.
"Our students, parents and staff always put out their best," he said.
St. Peter's application cited its excellent academic performance and its commitment to programming that produces well-rounded students. One program involves a relationship with children in South Africa, including summer trips by St. Peter middle-school-age students who post blogs about their experiences.
"We want to get students to think outside of themselves," Rudi said. "That's why we encourage them to be active in the local community, and also globally."
Jessica Barnes, principal of Twin Groves Middle School, said the school community was delighted to learn about the Blue Ribbon award.
"Everyone's very excited," she said. "It's a huge honor for us."
Twin Groves' application cited its commitment to focusing on the whole child in its education efforts. Barnes added that social and emotional learning are a big priority at the school. If a student struggles, an "intervention team" responds, she said.
"Our teachers believe there is no cap on learning, no matter which student you're talking about," she said. "They differentiate really well, and we try to provide the resources necessary for each student to succeed."
States nominate public schools for National Blue Ribbon status. The schools must rank among the state's top 15 percent in reading and mathematics, and all their subgroups, such as students from disadvantaged backgrounds, must rank similarly. Private schools have similar standards, and 50 from across the country are nominated by the Council for American Private Education.
Roslyn Road School's Paul Kirk said that winning the award is really just a first step.
"The challenge now is, how do we keep this going?" he said. "We have a responsibility to sustain this success, and to share our message with others."