BY CAROL ROEHM
The smallest school in the county, Armstrong-Ellis Elementary School, has been honored by the state once again with an Academic Excellence award, which is given to Illinois schools that have sustained high performance during at least three years.
“We have never not made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress),” Principal Kurt Thornsborough said.
The school, which boasts an enrollment of 87 kindergartners through eighth-graders, has received the Academic Excellence award several years in a row.
Last year, 95 percent of Armstrong-Ellis students met or exceeded Adequate Yearly Progress in reading and 93 percent in math on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
Thornsborough credited the school’s “very good faculty and staff” and a “very supportive community” for the students’ success.
“We also have parents who buy into it,” he said, referring to the high emphasis the school places on academics.
“The kids really do their best for us,” Thornsborough added.
The reward for doing well on the ISAT is that the Armstrong-Ellis student body gets to spend a day at the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament at Danville Area Community College in March.
“We’ll go out to the ball game and we’ll go out to lunch because we’re very proud of them,” he said.
In Danville, Northeast Elementary Magnet School — with 260 kindergartners through fifth-graders — earned its fourth Spotlight School Award in a row, and Jamaica Elementary School in Sidell earned its first Spotlight School Award.
The award recognizes high-poverty, high-performing schools for beating the odds.
Northeast Principal Cheryl McIntire said the secret to the school’s success is “staff commitment and parent involvement.
“When this school was started, it was a school of high expectations,” she said. “We do expect a lot of our kids and everyone works toward that.
“We start preparing our kids with kindergarten,” she said. “It takes everyone to make it a success.”
At Jamaica Elementary School — which boasts 166 kindergartners through fifth-graders — Principal Mollie Pletch said the teachers are very dedicated to the students, which encourages them to perform well.
“We have such a passionate group of teachers, not just to their job but to the students,” she said. “They want to make sure the students succeed.
“We’re really like a community,” she added. “Every teacher knows every student whether they’re in their class or not.
“The staff really cares about each student’s individual needs,” Pletch said. “We also have nice communication between teachers and parents.”
Armstrong-Ellis, Jamaica Elementary and Northeast Magnet are the only three area schools to be recognized for their continued academic progress or excellence by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Northern Illinois University (NIU).
The three are among 624 schools in the state to make the Illinois Honor Roll.
The state’s annual recognition program, based on the previous spring’s state standardized tests and demographic information, shows 50 schools are being recognized for the ninth or 10th consecutive year.
All of the schools were honored for their accomplishments in making progress toward or maintaining academic excellence.
“These Honor Roll schools once again show us that rigorous standards, great instruction and lots of hard work improve student performance,” State Board of Education Chairman Gery J. Chico said in a press release.
“Behind each school’s success is an untold story of extraordinary passion and dedication on behalf of administrators, teachers, parents and students. We commend each school and hope local community members will also celebrate their local schools’ success,” he said.
Northern Illinois University works with ISBE to establish criteria, identify winners of the awards and administer the Illinois Honor Roll, which is divided into three categories — Spotlight Schools, Academic Excellence and Academic Improvement.
Each award has unique criteria that best reflect the diverse circumstances of Illinois schools.
Area schools that were named a 2012 Spotlight School are: Northeast Elementary Magnet School in Danville and Jamaica Elementary School in Sidell.
More than 250 Academic Excellence elementary schools showed increases in scores over last year, even though they started at a baseline above 90 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards.
The only local school earning an academic excellence award was Armstrong-Ellis Elementary School, Armstrong.
At all those schools, the number of students meeting or exceeding standards increased by at least 7.5 points over one year or 15 points over two years.
No local schools earned an academic improvement award this year.
The 2012 Honor Roll roster includes elementary, middle and high schools, including charter schools, and represents 293 public school districts statewide.
Downstate schools represent 39 percent of the Honor Roll schools, suburban schools represent 49 percent and Chicago schools make up the final 12 percent this year. The schools earned a total of 640 awards in the three categories.