Two CPS schools recognized nationally for high performance

Peterson Park’s Hannah G. Solomon Elementary School, 6206 N. Hamlin Ave., serves 360 students who speak more than 40 languages among them. 

By Jackie Murray

Two Chicago public elementary schools on opposite sides of the city have recently been honored for excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.

A 2017 National Blue Ribbon School award was granted to Hannah G. Solomon Elementary, 6206 N. Hamlin Ave., and Edgar Allan Poe Classical School, 10538 S. Langley Ave. These schools are two out of only 16 public schools in the state and 342 overall schools nationwide to receive this award. Both Solomon’s and Poe’s honors are in the “Exemplary High Performing Schools” category for testing in the top 15 percent in Illinois, according to a Sept. 28 press release from the Chicago Public Schools.  

“[The awards recognize] that everybody’s getting educated [well] in that school, and that the school personnel have pulled together with the community and families to help the school improve the work it’s doing with their children,” said Marie Donovan, associate professor of Teacher Education at DePaul University. 

Solomon is a K–8 neighborhood school serving about 360 students on the Northwest Side with the majority living within four to five blocks of the school. Despite the Peterson Park school’s high performance, Principal Chris Gamble said 90 percent of visitors to the school say they did not even know it existed. However, within its compact community, culture is abundant.

“Just with our 360 students last year, we had [more than] 40 languages spoken at home,” Gamble said. “We think that’s pretty amazing within a neighborhood school that’s as small as we are to have this tremendous amount of diversity and still to have the success that we do.” 

Another benefit of serving a smaller student body is having only one class per grade level. Students get to form lasting relationships with their peers and the staff, Gamble said, noting that the school prides itself on the individualized education it provides.

Poe is a small, low-key school and the “best-kept secret on the South Side,” according to Principal Eric Dockery. 

“It’s hard for us to imagine our little school tucked away in Pullman has received national attention and especially for what we just normally do on a day-to-day basis,” Dockery said. “It gives us a great sense of pride but more than anything else, it affirms that we’re on the right track, and it gives us inspiration to work even harder.”

Poe is a K–6 selective-enrollment elementary school with about 208 students. Along with teaching students core curriculum at an advanced level, the school puts a strong emphasis on leadership and service, Dockery said. 

“With academic learning and the leadership skills we instill, we then challenge our students to make a positive difference in the world,” Dockery said. The school adopted the slogan “think globally, act locally” for students to acknowledge they are citizens of the world, while staying grounded in their community, he added. 

Dockery said students have taken their slogan to heart. The day after they celebrated the award, students packed up school supplies they collected over the past month to send to a school they “adopted,” Attucks Middle School in Houston, Texas, which was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey.

“That really embodies what we stand for and I think that was one of the reasons why we were selected as a Blue Ribbon awardee,” Dockery said. “Instead of sitting back and patting ourselves on the back, we were right back at doing what we do best: learning, leading and serving.”

Donovan noted how it was remarkable that a neighborhood school and selective enrollment school were performing at the same academic level. However, she added, an individual school’s success boils down to the people working inside the building, and it starts with the school’s  administration. 

“So much of what makes schools succeed are the professionals in the building,” Donovan said. “They’re the ones who drive the mission, who have a vision for where to take the kids.”