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Hickory Hills’ Glen Oaks School happy to be Blue (Ribbon winner)

As Principal Gaylyn Grimm looks Michael Dlouhy (center) practices place values with students Myasar Al-Tahleh Ali Hakawati (right) during class

As Principal Gaylyn Grimm looks on, Michael Dlouhy (center) practices place values with students Myasar Al-Tahleh and Ali Hakawati (right) during class at Glen Oaks School in Hickory Hills, IL on Thursday August 23, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 28, 2012 6:05AM



Having teachers work in teams, trying to make sure their students are making the same progress at about the same time, has made a world of difference at Glen Oaks Elementary School in Hickory Hills, officials said.

Now they have proof in a banner over the front entrance at 9045 S. 88th Ave.

There, the school proudly is touted as a winner of the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award, presented annually by the U.S. Department of Education.

It’s the first school in North Palos School District 117 to win the prestigious award. Of the nearly 140,000 schools in the country, just more than 6,000 have won blue ribbons in the past 30 years.

Principal Gaylyn Grimm and former team leader Kathy Sullivan found a winning approach when they began organizing meetings of teacher teams every week a few years ago. Kristen Morphew, who replaced Sullivan as team leader, said the meetings enable teachers to help one another, laying the groundwork for what’s become a very successful school.

Test scores tell the story. In reading, 95.3 percent of students at Glen Oaks met or exceeded state standards on Illinois Standards Achievement Tests. In math, that number was 98.9 percent.

Grimm attributes some of the success to the weekly teacher team meetings, where they discuss curriculum and student performance. Even more helpful may be the intervention days, held quarterly, at which teachers meet with everyone involved with students in their respective grade levels, be they reading teachers, social workers, speech therapists or others.

The intervention days “have had the most significant impact,” Morphew said.

“That’s when we really dig into the data,” Grimm said. “It’s a full day where we all get together to talk about the students about their needs, how they are performing, what we see in terms of progress and how we can adjust in order to help them.

“Instead of looking at children as numbers on a piece of paper, we get to know those children individually. It’s not just academic performance, We know their emotional needs; if they’re having social issues, we address that. It’s about providing support.”

Visitors from other schools have been impressed “by how much each teacher knows about each one of their students,” Grimm said.

There are plenty of students to get to know. The school’s enrollment is 670, up by about 100 since Grimm arrived six years ago, in second through fifth grade.

There are six classrooms for grades two through four, and seven rooms for grade five. The typical class size is 25 to 30 students.

Half the enrollment is considered “disadvantaged” by state standards because they receive free or reduced-cost lunches, Grimm said.

The school itself is a melting pot of ethnicity, as evidence by a sign on the front entrance that is written in English, Spanish, Polish and Arabic.

Yet in the halls and classrooms, there’s a feeling of togetherness, teachers said.

Third-grade teacher Robin Jankiewicz, of Oak Lawn, called the award “an extra special honor.”

“The kids have worked so hard. The teachers have worked so hard. It’s nice to be recognized,” she said.

“A lot of times, teaching can be independent, you don’t have time. Here, we make time,” Jankiewicz said. “We have meetings all the time. We work together. There’s a huge sense of collaboration, ‘How is that working for you?’ I can go to any teacher in the building and say, ‘I’m having trouble with this. How is that working for you?’ Everybody shares, even the new ones. We brainstorm. We come up with ideas.”

When Grimm became principal, she decided changes were needed.

“Everyone would read aloud from the same book. Some who read better would go ahead and they weren’t challenged. Some who had trouble reading would struggle. It just wasn’t working. It bothered me and I knew we had to have something different here,” Grimm said.

Before changes were made, the school tested in the 80 percentiles, Grimm said.

“Math for us was easier to get a handle on,” she said. “We looked at the standardized scores and broke them down.”

When math is fun, that helps learning, too, fourth-grade teacher Kristen Cichocki said.

While teaching math to her charges Thursday morning, she asked students to write down four seven-digit numbers on an erasable board and then ask another student to write out the numbers on their board. The children were having fun and, without realizing it, were learning about how to handle huge numbers.

Olivia Ramirez, 9, didn’t miss a number when Katelyn Peters, 9, asked her to write out 3,621,491. Katelyn flawlessly wrote out 7,523,623.

Olivia is glad her school is a Blue Ribbon winner.

“I felt really proud. I tried really hard on the ISATs. We all worked very hard. It’s a good school because it’s really fun. We’re having fun while we’re learning,” she said.

Cichocki, of Oak Forest, in her fifth year at the school, is pleased with Glen Oaks’ new lofty status.

“It’s amazing. The teachers worked extremely hard to achieve this. It’s good for the kids to see the payoff of all their hard work,” she said. “We really try to meet all the kids’ instructional needs. Everything we do for them helps. We put all our minds together. We bring our tool kits with us and we share. We really do.”



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