Willard school ranks 7th in state

Chris Kirk

The principal of a local elementary school recently ranked as one of the state’s highest achieving says administrators, teachers and parents account for its success.

“All those factors put together make us a strong district,” said Principal Shelley Carey of Willard Elementary School, 2700 Hurd Ave.

The Chicago Sun-Times ranked Willard as the seventh-best of about 2,200 public elementary schools in the state in an Oct. 30 report. Of the six schools that outdid Willard, four were for gifted students and all required entry exams, according to the Sun-Times.

“One could argue that it is perhaps the No. 1 regular elementary school in the state of Illinois,” District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy said.

Carey said the Willard students perform so well because teachers focus on tailoring their instruction to each child’s ability. This practice of “differentiated instruction” is one of the top priorities of school’s improvement team, according to the school’s Web site.

Carey added the district’s parents also can claim some credit for the school’s success, as well as the district’s policies, which may explain why seven other elementary schools in the district ranked in the top quarter.

Willard outranked other top schools despite the fact more of its children are from low-income families. Among the top 100 ranked elementary schools, an average of 7 percent of students are from low-income families. At Willard, about 26 percent are from low-income families, according to the Sun-Times.

Carey said cultural diversity has actually helped, not impaired, students across the district.”We don’t have homogeneous schools,” Carey said. “I think in that diversity is the opportunity for even richer learning.”

Still, diversity may explain why some schools, like Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave., did not place as highly as Willard. In stark contrast to Willard, Oakton placed 1,240th.

“Much of the difference between the two has to do with the number of students who are experiencing challenges and have a concentration of at-risk factors,” Murphy said.

Minorities make up nearly 32 percent of Willard students, according to the Sun-Times. At Oakton, they make up four-fifths of students.

“You inevitably are going to have an array of school cultures that reflect the communities’ demographics,” Murphy said, adding Oakton is nevertheless improving.

The Sun-Times based its rankings on students’ scores on state standardized tests, not on the percentage of students who meet state standards. The next highest ranked Evanston school was Orrington Elementary School, 2636 Orrington Ave., at 95th. Principal Michael Dougherty said it is the philosophy of the school’s teachers and administrators that explain why Orrington students are high-achieving.

“They’re achieving well because the philosophy of the faculty and this building is the fact that all teachers are responsible and help them progress at their level,” he said.

Other Evanston elementary schools’ rankings:

  • Willard – 7
  • Orrrington – 95
  • Lincolnwood – 125
  • Rhodes Magnet -156
  • Dewey – 231
  • Lincoln – 246
  • Kingsley – 267
  • King Lab – 490
  • Walker – 555
  • Washington – 590
  • Dawes – 619
  • Oakton – 1240

Source: Chicago Sun-Times school ranking

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