Oak Grove Schools celebrates its National Blue Ribbon award
The prestigious national award was announced in the fall, but an all-star lineup Wednesday brought it home to students at Oak Grove District 68.
A full house of all 876 students, their teachers and other staff members packed the Pat Patt gym for the official celebration of the National Blue Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education.
"It's nice that the kids can see a result from it -- that's what it boils down to," seventh-grade teacher Daniel Russert said before the presentation.
Cheers, whoops and whistles punctuated the comments from several school dignitaries, who let the kids know the recognition was a big deal they should carry with them forever.
"Every person who is in here contributed to our recognition as a Blue Ribbon school," said Principal Andrew Fenton, who was in his first year when he received a call about a year ago from the Illinois State Board of Education inviting the K-8 school in Green Oaks to apply for the award.
The detailed application outlines school practices, such as those involving curriculum, and was completed in March. The winners were announced in September.
Besides Oak Grove, winning Lake County schools were in Lincolnshire, Deerfield, Buffalo Grove and Long Grove. The honor is considered the highest a school district can earn, with 279 public and 50 private schools honored in 2016.
Fenton, Superintendent Lonny Lemon and special education teacher Katie Riley represented the school in Washington last month.
"It means Oak Grove school is a model of excellence across the country," school board President Jennifer Manski told the assembly. Working the crowd, Manski's mention of the Chicago Blackhawks and especially the Chicago Cubs brought down the house.
"It means together, we are champions. Yeah, champions. Doesn't that feel pretty cool?" she asked to rousing cheers.
Former superintendents Patt and Janice Matthews were among the speakers. Green Oaks Mayor Bernard Wysocki, who moved to the area decades ago so his kids could attend Oak Grove, read and presented a village resolution honoring the school.
"Obviously, the magic still exists here," Patt said,
Matthews, who left the single-school district five years ago, told students they should "stand a little taller" because of the award.
"That's something that's part of your legacy, and you should remember that," she said.
The accolades concluded with Lemon, who thanked a "tireless and talented" teaching staff and urged students not to let up and keep pushing themselves and their teachers.
At the end of his remarks, Lemon said he has been an educator for 34 years and worked in six school districts.
"This is the proudest day of my career," he said, pausing momentarily with emotion. "I want to thank the parents, staff, and most important, you the students for making this dream come true."