Originally Posted Online: Feb. 02, 2013, 8:12 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 03, 2013, 10:37 am

E. M.'s Ridgewood students get blue-ribbon education

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By Sarah Hayden, shayden@qconline.com

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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Sheri Coder, Principal of Ridgewood Elementary stands amongst a group of 1st graders at the school that has been nominated as a blue ribbon candidate by the State of Illinois. This is the first time any East Moline school has been nominated.

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."