Kaneland District 302 and West Aurora District 129 officials basked in glory Thursday, as state school Superintendent Christopher Koch bestowed Academic Improvement Awards on two of their schools.
"The schools that we are recognizing here today are really among an elite group," Koch said during a ceremony at Kaneland High School.
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Kaneland High School and Nicholson Elementary School are among 177 schools on the 2013 Illinois Honor Roll. Other categories were Spotlight schools, which are high-performing low-income schools; and High Performance schools, which have sustained high performance over the last three years.
Kaneland and Nicholson were honored for substantially improving scores on state standardized assessment tests.
Kaneland went from having 56.1 percent of its students meeting or exceeding the state standard on the Prairie State Achievement Test in 2011, to 69 percent in 2013. That helped it get a passing grade for adequate yearly progress.
Nicholson was deemed to have made adequate yearly progress after having failed the year before. It was the only District 129 school to have made AYP in 2013. Its challenges include having a student population that is 79 percent low-income and 27 percent English language learners, with a 12 percent mobility rate.
Dave Russell, principal of the Montgomery school, joked that it wasn't the school building ("It's not the prettiest," he said) or its neighbors (it is next to cemetery, "which makes for some interesting recess talks,") that led to the award.
The community, teachers, aides and students did it, he said. In particular, he credited the use of professional learning communities for the staff, where teachers meet to discuss best practices to get the most out of individual students, for the school improving its state assessment test scores.
Kaneland High School Principal Jill Maras pointed to the students attending the ceremony as a major reason the Maple Park school won the award: Many had achieved ACT scores of 25 or better last spring. One student scored a perfect 36.
Maras urged the staff and teachers attending the ceremony to keep up their work.
"I challenge each of you here today to use this experience as a stake in the ground. Not as a place where we are going to stay, but as a reminder of who we want to be and what we are capable of achieving and where we want to go," Maras said.