The mood at Thursday was ecstatic, after teachers and other staff members learned that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had chosen the school from among thousands nationwide to be recognized as a “Blue Ribbon School.”
Awarded to just 305 public and private schools throughout the country and only 19 in Illinois this year, the honor recognizes schools whose students attain very high academic success or schools that have closed significant achievement gaps.
“It’s a way to shine a light on the wonderful things that are going on in this building,” Principal Mark Schaffer told Patch. “It transcends the school. I think it really is an endorsement of the community.”
Schaffer was notified that the Illinois State Board of Education had nominated to apply for the award last October. Working with a team of teachers and other staff members, Schaffer had until February to complete the application. In April, he learned that the school would receive the award so long as students made adequate yearly progress on the Illinois State Achievement Test. Students did just that, improving their scores enough to qualify the school to receive the honor.
The news wasn’t official until Thursday, however, when Duncan officially announced that would be among the 2011 Blue Ribbon Schools. In November, he will present Schaffer with a plaque at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Schaffer said he believed it was ’ integration of technology, cutting-edge curriculum, “world-class” staff and foundation of community support that helped make it a winner this year.
“It takes that partnership of not only the community but an amazing staff,” he said.
At a curricular level, part of what makes special is the way teachers push their students to look outside the four walls of the school, Schaffer said.
Teacher Gella Meyerhoff, who will accompany Schaffer to the awards ceremony in November and who was among a team that helped write the application, is an example of how that vision gets put into practice.
“She’s really helping lead our vision toward a global education,” Schaffer said. “A community is no longer defined by the city or village that you live in. Problems are no longer local, they’re global. Jobs are no longer local, they’re global.”
One of Meyerhoff’s lessons this year will give her students the opportunity to interview an expert on nuclear proliferation in Washington, D.C.—via Skype, the internet telephone service.
“It’s connecting them with a source that lives it every single day,” Schaffer said. “The aim of our global studies in the eighth grade is to show them that decisions and things that are happening here have implications and ramifications outside.”
The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the Blue Ribbon School designation since 1982. Northbrook—known for its high-achieving students and public schools that regularly rank at the top of state and national lists—lays claim to a healthy share of Blue Ribbon School honors in the past. Previous winners include , and , according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
“This is a great honor in that it is the highest award any school can receive from the US Department of Education,” Supt. David J. Kroeze said in a press release. “This award honors not only but the outstanding work of our staff, parents, board of education, and administration at every level of the district.”