Northbrook hits the National Blue Ribbon jackpot

  • Corine Long teaches a technology class in the STEAM Lab (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) at Wood Oaks Junior High.

    Corine Long teaches a technology class in the STEAM Lab (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) at Wood Oaks Junior High. Courtesy of Tarah O'Connell/Northbrook School District 27

  • Westmoor School Principal Mary Sturgill greets students arriving on Sept. 16, when the U.S. Department of Education announced Westmoor as a recipient of the 2022 National Blue Ribbon School Award.

    Westmoor School Principal Mary Sturgill greets students arriving on Sept. 16, when the U.S. Department of Education announced Westmoor as a recipient of the 2022 National Blue Ribbon School Award. Courtesy of Terry Ryan/Northbrook District 28

 
 
Updated 9/27/2022 2:29 PM

Sept. 16 was a banner day for Northbrook schools.

Three of them -- Wescott School, Westmoor School and Wood Oaks Junior High -- each received 2022 National Blue Ribbon School awards, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced.

 

They, along with nearby Deerfield High School, were among 17 schools in Illinois and 297 nationwide to have earned the honor this year.

"How proud I am to be getting this award with our colleagues in Northbrook," said Dr. Brian Wegley, superintendent of Northbrook/Glenview School District 30, which supports Wescott School, 1820 Western Ave.

Maple School, also in District 30, won a 2021 Blue Ribbon. Wescott earned the honor in 2013.

Wegley, who started in the community as a physics teacher at Glenbrook South High School in 1995, will be retiring next June after 35 years overall in education, the last eight as District 30 superintendent.

After back-to-back Blue Ribbons, he'll go out with a bang.

"I think it is reflective of the incredible community that we have," Wegley said of the three National Blue Ribbon winners in Northbrook. "It's also reflective of the strong community and the collaboration we have within our community. I'm very proud of them as well, and proud to be a part of this community."

Each of the three Northbrook schools earned the recognition as an Exemplary High Performing School. According to the U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School program, these schools have their state's highest achieving students (the top 15%) in English and mathematics based on state assessments. It said 420 schools may be nominated nationwide annually for the award program, which started in 1982.

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The program also recognizes "Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing" schools, which are those that make the greatest improvements in closing achievement gaps in English and math over three to five years.

Wegley said the Illinois State Board of Education invites schools to apply. Once Wescott received that invitation, Principal Chris Brown set out to compile more information to include in the application.

This year, that included "the collaboration that we had going through COVID, which kept students truly at the center of our decision making," Wegley said.

How schools help students get past the pandemic was emphasized in Cardona's announcement he sent to the honorees, including Wood Oaks Junior High, 1250 Sanders Road.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's telling that among Wood Oaks' four-member contingent that will be heading to Washington, D.C., on Nov. 3-4 for the U.S. Department of Education's honors ceremony and conference is Kirsten Brown, a school social worker, guidance counselor and teacher of Wood Oaks' Character Education Program.

"I think one of the things we do well is our curriculum is constantly evolving, our teachers are getting continual professional development as to best practices, best content and the best ways to use standards to instruct," said Wood Oaks Principal Cari Beake, in her first year as principal after 16 years as assistant principal and 10 more as a science teacher, all at Wood Oaks, which earned a 2011 Blue Ribbon School as well.

"I think we also do very well looking at the whole child," said Beake, who will join Brown, past Principal Rob McElligott and Northbrook School District 27 Superintendent John Deiter in the nation's capitol.

"One of the key parts of our application, our submission for the Blue Ribbon Award, did go around our PBIS (program) -- our Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support -- and we started that roughly 12 years ago, and that really allows us to look at the social-emotional well-being of all the students in the building," Beake said.

Meeting the requirements of an Exemplary High Performing School is one thing, but Beake said the application process "goes beyond just the test scores."

She said Wood Oaks attempts to build relationships with students and parents in creating a positive school climate and strategies for success.

This "builds a culture in Wood Oaks in which we truly feel we are a family," Beake said.

Westmoor School, 1475 Maple Ave., is a first-time winner of the National Blue Ribbon School Award. It joins fellow Northbrook District 28 schools Greenbriar (2013) and Northbrook Junior High (1992) to have earned the honor.

Westmoor's seventh-year Principal Mary Sturgill is "super-excited," she said.

"This is a huge honor for our Westmoor community, especially in the middle of a pandemic. I think it highlights the commitment between staff and then also the students, and the perseverance that they've shown throughout the last few trying months -- and then the support we get from our families. To me, it is an honor for our whole community," Sturgill said.

Like these other Northbrook schools, the social-emotional aspects lifted Westmoor above the academic baseline the U.S. Department of Education requires as it considers Blue Ribbon Award winners. Westmoor places two adults in each classroom, Sturgill said, providing students with more individual attention.

When told the school had received a nomination for the award, Sturgill also was told it was based on high-performing results. Those aren't achieved in a vacuum, though.

"It's really an approach of knowing the kids, understanding them, and making those real connections with them," she said.

"To me, it speaks to the social and emotional aspect of our kids and where they are. We couldn't have achieved the academics if our kids weren't in a good space socially and emotionally. We really do feel that's because of the whole-child approach and the strong collaboration between the school and the families."

Westmoor plans a celebration at the school on Nov. 7.

First it's on to Washington, D.C., to pick up the hardware -- a plaque to post in the hallway and a banner to fly up the flagpole.

"It is a celebration of education in the United States of America," Wegley said.

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