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Eldorado Middle School wins national Blue Ribbon

  • Students at work inside Eldorado Middle School.

    Students at work inside Eldorado Middle School.
    Courtesy of the Blue Ribbon Foundation

  • Eldorado Middle School has been named a National Blue Ribbon School.

    Eldorado Middle School has been named a National Blue Ribbon School.

By Renee Trappe
updated: 10/14/2021 12:22 AM

Eldorado Middle School has won one of the most prestigious education awards in the nation -- an award that has been seven years in the making, according to Principal Billy Tippett.

"It's a really big deal for our school and our school district," Tippett said Thursday. "It's nice to know that our kids and our teachers and our staff have all had their hard work paid off."

National Blue Ribbon Awards are given annually by the U.S. Department of Education. This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recognized 325 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2021, including 18 in Illinois.

The recognition is based on a school's overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

"We set goals seven years ago," Tippett said, referring to when he took over as principal after being a coach and teacher in District 4 since 2003. "Being a Blue Ribbon School was not one of our goals. But becoming a better school was."

Tippett said seven years ago they decided it was critical for him and his teachers to understand more about the lives their students were leading. Eldorado had high unemployment rates among residents, and people were moving away to find work.

"Our number one goal became to build relationships," Tippett said. "It was important for us to know what our student body was going through. We needed empathy, we needed to understand why they weren't focused."

His teachers, he said, bought into the new program and were great at it.

"It makes sense," Tippett said. "If you want a student to work hard for you, you have to show them you care."

He said District 4 started using resources that had been within their reach, but had never been used, like the Egyptian Health Department, the Regional Office of Education and others, who specifically came to Eldorado to talk with kids about substance abuse and suicide prevention strategies.

Kids have even been taught how to look for signs of trouble in other students, "all different strategies to build relationships."

All of it snowballed into better attendance, Tippett said. "Kids work harder in the classroom and on state tests," he said. The test scores show five years of solid academic improvement.

Math scores have improved, from only 8% of students meeting or exceeding the state goals to now 24%. In English and Language Arts, the improvement has been exceptional -- from 15% of students meeting or exceeding the state goals to fully 50%.

"We have also seen our discipline go down and our community trust and interactions go up," District 4 wrote to the Blue Ribbon Committee.

"Seven years ago, our test scores were some of the lowest in the area and quite honestly we were embarrassed," the letter says. We knew we had a great staff and a building full of kids that could do better. We had to find a way.

"Now, building relationships is now a pillar in our school."

The 2021 awards will be presented in suburban Washington D.C. on Nov. 4 and 5.

Locally, Tippett said he and Superintendent Ryan Hobbs and others are working out how to celebrate. They are going to shout it from the rooftops and it's going to be clear to anyone entering Eldorado Middle School that this is a Blue Ribbon school, he promised.

"I don't think the students full understand yet what a big deal this is," Tippett said. They will.

Even so, Tippett said the Blue Ribbon award is not the end of Eldorado's self-improvement process.

"Our goals remain the same," he said. "To be acknowledged is great, but we will continue to push our students regardless of their demographics. It's personal to us. And that bleeds through to our kids."