Six elementary schools earn Blue Ribbon awards

By Daniel P. Smith | Contributor
Sunday, October 7, 2012

As the yearlong process to become a Blue Ribbon School progressed from one step to the next, Susan Castagna’s hopes intensified.

The veteran principal at St. Athanasius in Evanston, Castagna knew the impact that the elite national honor would have on her school and parish community.

Finally, in early September, Castagna received the word she had long been awaiting.

The U.S. Department of Education named the Evanston school, which serves more than 330 K-8 students, one of the nation’s 269 Blue Ribbon Schools for 2012.

“We’ve long known St. Athanasius is a great school, but it’s nice to have national recognition for it,” Castagna said. “This gives pride to our teachers, students, parents and parish community.”

Awarded annually, the Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors high-achieving public and private schools as well as those schools that have closed significant gaps in student achievement.

A privileged honor

St. Athanasius was among six schools from the Archdiocese of Chicago to claim 2012 Blue Ribbon distinction. The others included: St. Francis Xavier School, Wilmette; St. John of the Cross School, Western Springs; St. Luke School, River Forest; St. Mary of the Woods School, 7033 N. Moselle Ave.; and the School of St. Mary, Lake Forest.

In all, 21 Illinois public and private schools received the 2012 Blue Ribbon honor. Additional Catholic school winners in the state were St. Patrick School in downstate Washington (Diocese of Peoria) and Ss. Peter and Paul School in Naperville (Diocese of Joliet).

The Blue Ribbon is a prestigious honor and one designed to bring public attention to the nation’s top schools, highlight effective academic experiences and facilitate the sharing of best practices in the classroom. Of the more than 138,000 elementary, middle and high schools in the United States, fewer than 7,000, about 5 percent, have earned the distinctive Blue Ribbon honor since the program’s inception in 1982.

Though Blue Ribbon schools represent a cross-section of the American landscape — urban, suburban and rural institutions serving students from diverse social, ethnic and economic backgrounds — they all share a commitment to instructional excellence.

All 2012 Blue Ribbon Schools will be honored at a national awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., this November. All of the award-winning schools will receive a plaque and flag to showcase the elite recognition.

The local impact

Castagna hopes the award not only helps the St. Athanasius’ school recruitment efforts, but also allows parishioners to see the results of their consistent and unwavering support.

“Earning Blue Ribbon status reinforces the idea that we are worth investing in and that we, as a school, are helping each child grow and thrive in a nurturing Catholic environment,” Castagna said. “That’s important for our parishioners and the greater community here to know.”

At St. Luke Parish School, firstyear principal Therese Craig said the Blue Ribbon award has boosted excitement at the school and parish, which is currently celebrating its 125th year.

“We both get to celebrate these tremendous milestones,” said Craig, who credits former school principal Barbara Rasinski with creating a culture of academic excellence at St. Luke — and doing all the Blue Ribbon application legwork.

Craig, who was previously the assistant principal at St. John of the Cross, a fellow 2012 Blue Ribbon recipient, said it’s clear that such lofty accomplishments can be achieved when all stakeholders — parish and school administration, teachers, students and parents — work in unison toward academic excellence.

“Coming into St. Luke’s as its new principal, it was very clear to me that the sense of community here and everybody working together is one of the evident pieces that elevates St. Luke’s and positioned it for the Blue Ribbon award,” Craig said.

The honorees in archdiocese

St. Athanasius School, Evanston. Principal: Susan Castagna

St. Francis Xavier School, Wilmette. Principal: Daniel McKenna

St. John of the Cross Parish School, Western Springs. Principal: Kathleen Gorman

St. Luke Parish School, River Forest. Principal: Barbara Rasinski

St. Mary of the Woods School, 7033 N. Moselle. Principal: Patrick Kelly

School of St. Mary, Lake Forest. Principal: Venette Biancalana