St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette wins National Blue Ribbon
Maggie Heintz and Luke Stewart uses the school's iPads Nov. 2 to read. Wilmette's St. Francis Xavier won the National Blue Ribbon School Award. | Joel Lerner—Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:30AM
WILMETTE — Dan McKenna wasn’t too sure students at Wilmette’s St. Francis Xavier School would be all that impressed to hear that their school was a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School. After all, adults get excited by that sort of thing, not students, the school principal thought.
He was wrong. Kids in the k-8 school’s auditorium at 808 Linden Ave. cheered, yelled and screamed their approval at the news when McKenna sprang it on them in late September.
“It was kind of great,” he said last month, with admirable understatement. It also reflects the kind of community spirit that impressed Blue Ribbon judges when they reviewed the school’s application to be considered as one of the nation’s best schools.
St. Francis Xavier, its 45 staff members and 410 students, have joined a select fellowship. Only 269 schools nationwide were chosen as Blue Ribbon schools this year by the U.S. Department of Education, and only 50 of them were non-public schools. Illinois boasted eight non-public schools among its 21 2012 winners; St. Francis is the sole Wilmette honoree.
A team of parents and staff worked for about a year on the application – the school’s very first, McKenna said. They learned in September that St. Francis had made the 2012 honor roll. McKenna and Assistant Principal Colleen Barrett accepted the award at a Nov. 12 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
While non-public schools go through a different evaluation process than their public counterparts, (with no on-site visits, for example), the academic standards are just as rigorous, McKenna and parent Jackie Petrozzi said. Completing the nomination procedure and ensuring that the school shows evidence of meeting Blue Ribbon qualifications took time and effort, but was worth it, McKenna added.
“It was a great morale booster for parents and teachers,” agreed Petrozzi, a member of the school’s Home School Organization board.
McKenna said he thinks St. Francis’ academic diversity, including a strong fine arts department and a commitment to technology, impressed evaluators. Adjudicators wanted to examine the school’s philosophy and vision to see if they matched up with what was happening in the classroom. They also looked for evidence that St. Francis had strong relationships between parents, teachers, students and staff, Petrozzi said.
St. Francis, which attracts students not only from Wilmette but from surrounding North Shore communities, has grown from 267 students in 2008 to more than 400 this year. Educating those young people is ultimately more important than being named a Blue Ribbon school, McKenna said.
“We’re here to raise our children. Education is supposed to transform lives, and that’s what we try to do here.”