Highland Park D-112 catches acclaim
Ellen Mauer is principal at Ravinia School, one of three North Shore District 112 schools that made Chicago Magazine's list of the Top Ten elementary schools in Lake County. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 21, 2012 5:46PM
HIGHLAND PARK — At Ravinia Elementary School, there is no secret formula for success, Principal Ellen E. Mauer said.
Great parents and a staff that looks out for its students are what make Ravinia a top-notch school, Mauer said. Ravinia is among the top 10 Lake County elementary schools in a Chicago Magazine report “Best Public Schools in Chicago and Suburbs 2012” that came out this month.
“It’s a perfect combination of having the right staff members in the right positions,” Mauer said of her school’s success. “Every staff member here is worried about what’s best for the students. That’s what makes the difference.”
Ranked No. 6 in the magazine’s report — based on data from the 2010-2011 state-mandated school report cards — two other Highland Park elementary schools made the list, with Braeside Elementary taking the No. 1 spot and Lincoln Elementary, No. 4.
Each school’s spending per pupil, pupil-teacher ratio and percentage of students who met or exceeded state standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests was among information considered in the ranking. At Braeside last school year, where 2.2 percent of the school’s 273 students come from low-income homes, where $8,959 is spent per pupil and average class size is 14.4, the school boasted a 98.8 average score on the ISAT. Lincoln had 282 students, with 5.7 percent low-income, $8,959 per-pupil spending, a 14.4 average class size and a 97.4 average ISAT score. Ravinia had 327 students with 5.5 percent low-income, $8,959 per pupil spending, a 14.4 average class size and a 96.8 average ISAT score.
The statistics, however, do not tell the entire story, North Shore School District 112 Superintendent David L. Behlow said.
“It’s always exciting to be recognized for your hard work and for your results, and we are proud that three of our schools made the list this year,’’ Behlow said. “But we are also proud of the great learning that takes place in all of our schools, and realize that the factors that went into creating the list don’t paint a complete picture.”
Student performance on the ISAT is important, he said, but it is just one measure.
“We would be doing all of our students a disservice if we said this was good enough, and we did not drill down and ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to help every student reach their full potential,” Behlow said. “Our district mission speaks to the importance of nurturing and inspiring every student to become a productive member of a global community, fostering intellectual inquiry and modeling good character traits.’’
At Ravinia, each child is looked at as an individual learner, with more effort being put into differentiated instruction, Mauer said, adding the school is starting to pre-assess students to see where they stand in different academic areas.
“Maybe they have a lot of information on a subject, so we allow them to go deeper into that subject,” Mauer said. “We find a way to meet that child’s needs.”
Having a strong connection with families, and parents who nurture their children and support the school, also is key, she said.
“Our families send kids to us ready to learn,” Mauer said. “(Teachers) can teach and the kids come in ready to learn.”
One example of parental support is the school’s greenhouse, donated by the Parent-Teacher Organization in the 1990s, Mauer said.
It has become a hands-on classroom, she said, with kindergartners — when reading the book “Carrot Seed” — come to the greenhouse to plant seeds, and older students plant and sell butter lettuce. The students sell the lettuce, featured on the menu at Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook, starting in October, she said.
That kind of creative dedication to student learning is found throughout District 112, Behlow said.
“Something that may be unique to our district is a period of time each day in our elementary schools that is known as an intervention block,” he said. “During this period, students have the opportunity to work on skills and areas that may need strengthening.
“I have worked in many districts, and I can honestly say that the teachers in our district have an enthusiasm, dedication, energy and commitment to students that is second to none,” he continued. “Our teachers are dedicated to working creatively with students and innovating in the classroom in order to reach every student’s learning style and provide an engaging and stimulating classroom experience.”