Six Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago were recognized Sept. 28 by the U.S. Department of Education with Blue Ribbon awards. This year’s honorees include St. Josaphat School, 2245 N. Southport Ave., which was also recognized in 2010, and St. Joseph School, Libertyville, which was previously recognized in 2009. Receiving a Blue Ribbon for the first time are Holy Family Catholic Academy, Inverness; St. Edward School, 4343 W. Sunnyside Ave.; St. Gilbert School, Grayslake; and St. Joseph School, Wilmette. Principals at the schools said they wanted the recognition especially to honor their teachers, who have embraced new curriculum and technology that allows them to use data to tailor instruction to the needs of individual children. “There may be some teachers who were here when we won it before, but they are different teachers now, and we’re a different school,” said Anne Phoenix, principal of St. Joseph School in Libertyville. “We’ve really embraced continuous improvement for the last four or five years and reinvented the school.” Using new tools, she said, teachers can get feedback on how well students understand new concepts in real time and adjust their lessons immediately, instead of waiting even overnight to grade assignments. “If you wait for a chapter test, you’re in trouble,” said Phoenix, who was the parent of a kindergartner — and not working at the school — when her school was last recognized. Now her daughter is in high school. Springfield Dominican Sister Marie Michelle Hackett has been at St. Edward School for 27 years, 26 as principal. She has seen the school change — when she started, there were eight members of her community at the school and now she is the only one, and the enrollment has dropped from about 700 students to 350. At the same time, she said, curriculum and instructional methods have improved, and the school has expanded its offerings in music and extracurricular activities. “We’re a much busier place now than 25 years ago,” she said. Gathering the information and preparing the Blue Ribbon application took about a year, Sister Marie Michelle said, but it was worth it. “We felt like our school was a great school and we wanted to showcase it,” she said. All of the schools that were recognized must meet high standards when it comes to test scores and academic achievement, as only 50 non-public school in the United States were among the 342 honored this year. “We are honored that the U.S. Department of Education has once again recognized several of our Catholic schools for their academic success,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools. “We have the awesome responsibility of educating and mentoring our students — the future leaders of our city, state and world. We are deeply proud of our students, teachers, staff, and parents for their dedication and belief in Catholic education.” The Archdiocese of Chicago is the recipient of the greatest number of U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Awards of any school system — public or private. More than 75 individual schools have been recognized since the program started in 1983, many of them more than once. "I'm telling everyone that this is not only an honor for us, but for the whole archdiocese, to be one of six schools recognized," said Kate O'Brien, principal of Holy Family Catholic Academy. Holy Family is in its 15th year, and only recently grew to the point of having two classrooms at each grade level, she said. O'Brien gave much of the credit to the teachers. "They are amazing," she said. "They are truly dedicated to the Catholic mission, and this is a ministry for them." Holy Family is in the candidacy stage of becoming an International Baccalaureate primary school focused on inquiry-based learning, and it is dedicated to continuous improvement. "The teachers all know that if they've done something before and they're going to do it again, it has to be because it's right for the students, not just because we've already done it," she said. Michael Kendrick, principal at St. Joseph School in Wilmette, said receiving a Blue Ribbon tells the community that the school offers academic excellence in addition to faith and character formation. “We offer the complete package,” he said. “Our kids have good character, receive an excellent academic education and when they graduate, they love God.” The entire school plans to walk from the school to the Wilmette Village Hall on Nov. 10 to present the award to the village, he said. “This also is recognition for the kids and their hard work,” he said. Brian Tekampe, who is in his fourth year as principal at St. Gilbert School in Grayslake, said he started thinking about applying for the award in his second year there. “I started looking at the criteria and at our test scores, and I realized there was no reason we shouldn’t try,” he said. “I saw the growth in our students and the things our staff was doing, and said yes, we should be a Blue Ribbon School.