G. Kerkstra Elementary School, which is a part of Forest Ridge Elementary School District 142 in Oak Forest, has been named a National Blue Ribbon School for 2015. It is the only school in the Chicago Southland and one of only 16 nominees in Illinois to receive the prestigious designation from the U.S. Department of Education.
On September 29, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recognized 335 schools nationwide as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2015 based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. These schools demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels.
“This honor recognizes your students’ accomplishments and the hard work and dedication that went into their success,” Duncan said in a video message to the awardees. “Your journey has taught you collaboration, intentional instruction, and strong relationships in school and with your community. You represent excellence—in vision, in implementation, and in results—and we want to learn as much as we can from you.”
This coveted award was achieved over a multi-year timespan of instruction and curriculum improvement, thanks largely to the efforts of Dr. Lori Leppert, director of pupil personnel services at District 142 and former long-time principal of G. Kerkstra Elementary School. The district celebrates this achievement along with current Kerkstra Principal Jeff Kulik, and the school’s dedicated faculty and staff.
Shortly after receiving the award, Leppert told the Daily Southtown that her goal now is to apply the changes made at Kerkstra to the other schools in District 142, Foster Elementary School and Jack Hille Middle School. “We’re always looking at what works in our schools and trying to see how they improve the blueprint for us all,” she said.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students either achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap. The award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging content. The award flag gracing a school’s building is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.
All schools are recognized in one of two performance categories — Exemplary High Performing Schools and Exemplary Achievement Gap-Closing Schools — based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates.
The U.S. Department of Education honored 285 public and 50 private schools at a recognition ceremony in November in Washington, D.C.