Sherri Coder has exciting news. In her 11th year as principal of Ridgewood Elementary School in East Moline, the hard work is paying off.
Ridgewood has been nominated as a Blue Ribbon School by the state of Illinois -- one of 16 schools in the state and the first in the Illinois Quad-Cities.St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport received the honor in 2011.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes private and public schools for high levels of academic achievement or those that have made significant progress in recent years.
Once a school is nominated, an application must be submitted. It's a process that Ms.Coder describes as arduous and lengthy. The application is reviewed by a federal panel that decides which schools receive blue-ribbon status.
"I believe the nomination itself is an honor, but to get to the end is another step," Ms. Coder said.
Winners will be announced in September. Principals of winning schools will be invited to an awards ceremony in November in Washington, D.C., hosted by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
"Do I think Ridgewood is a blue-ribbon school? Absolutely," East Moline superintendent Kristin Humphries said. "It really points to the work being done. It's nice to be recognized by the state of Illinois and potentially the whole country."
Schools are chosen based on standardized test scores. Ms. Coder said Illinois standard achievement test scores at Ridgewood have risen steadily for the past 10 years, and100 percent of fourth-graders met or exceeded ISAT scores for math last year.
She said students have to attain the same level of achievement each year, which sets the bar at 92.5 percent. Ridgewood students have exceeded that with math scores of 96 percent.
Ms. Coder said challenges at Ridgewood Elementary include a 6 percent poverty rate, crowded classrooms and 19 percent mobility rate. She said the school is at capacity with no openings left in any classrooms.
"If you look at our stats, we are considered at-risk. Eighteen percent of the students are limited English proficient, 67 percent are on the free and reduced lunch program and 34 percent are Hispanic," she said.
As an example, she steps into a first-grade classroom with 22 students -- a classroom in which six languages are spoken.
"What's going to make the biggest difference in getting our kids to succeed? Reading," Ms. Coder said. "Poverty impacts reading more so than other subjects. Poverty can be a roadblock, but it's not an excuse."
Ms. Coder said students are more likely to succeed if they first learn to read in their native language, then English. Using this philosophy, Ridgewood Elementary has self-contained bilingual kindergarten and first-grade classrooms.
"Whether kids come to you speaking English, rich or poor, you have a moral responsibility to give them the best education you can," she said. "What's the saying -- how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
The other blue-ribbon nominee schools come from a mix of smaller rural towns and Chicago suburbs.
"To be in the pool with these schools, many of which are in wealthier districts with few kids on the free and reduced lunch program, is an achievement," Ms. Coder said.
Mr. Humphries said Ridgewood teachers work hard and, with strong families and leadership, you can make anything happen.
"I want the nation to know there are great schools in Illinois. We don't get the credit we deserve," Ms. Coder said.
"A national blue-ribbon school in the Quad-Cities? There can be quality education no matter where you go. It's fun beating the odds."
Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.
1864 — 150 years ago: Some persons are negotiating for 80 feet of ground on Illinois Street with a view of erecting four stores thereon. It would serve a better purpose if the money was invested in neat tenement houses. 1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000. 1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city. 1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association. 1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College. 1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.