Kerkstra School Wins Blue Ribbon

Kerkstra Elementary School in Oak Forest has been named a National Blue Ribbon School for 2015, the only school in the Southland and one of only 16 in Illinois to receive the prestigious designation. The award is granted by the U.S. Education Department and recognizes overall academic excellence or significant improvement in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program is meant to honor schools that show all students can achieve at high levels of excellence. Forest Ridge School District 142 Superintendent Paul McDermott said Kerkstra, which serves students in the first through fifth grades, received National Blue Ribbon status because of improvements it has made in various aspects of education in recent years. “This is about overall academic excellence,” he said. “It’s not a fleeting honor. This is for the long term and something that will make us stand out for years to come.”

McDermott said the improved student performance at Kerkstra, 14950 Laramie Ave., is largely due to the efforts of its former principal, Lori Leppert, who’s now director of pupil personnel services for District 142, to change the curriculum and motivate students to do better. Leppert, who was Kerkstra principal from 2004 to 2014 and has been an educator in the Chicago area for 25 years, said her focus was on making students think they were capable of doing better schoolwork and achieving goals that might not otherwise occur to them.

She said one such tactic is getting students as early as the second or third grades thinking about attending college. “We will ask them, ‘Where do you want to go to college?’ ” she said. “You get them to think in terms of wanting to do more.” Leppert said her efforts to improve academic performance began in 2009, and she recently met with students who were the youngest when the changes began to be implemented then. “I was able to tell them, ‘We did it,’ and you could see they felt it as well,” she said. “This is their accomplishment as much as anyone else’s.” Leppert said 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. Of the 335 schools across the United States that were recently named National Blue Ribbon Schools, 285 are public schools and 50 are private schools. All of them will be acknowledged Nov. 9 and 10 in Washington, D.C., and each school will get an award flag it can fly outside the school. Gregory Tejeda is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

Copyright © 2015, Daily Southtown

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