Students and staff from Lane Technical High School were all smiles as they celebrated having been named a 2012 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. This distinguished honor was presented to less than 300 public schools in the nation and is a benchmark for academic excellence.
Lane Tech shares this distinction with Jones College Prep High School, which also achieved blue ribbon status in 2012. This was a repeat performance for Jones, who won the award in 2006 – the first CPS high school ever to claim this prize. Blue Ribbon schools fall into one of two categories – those with the highest academic performance and those who have shown significant gains in improving student achievement levels.
“In 2006, we were recognized for our improvements,” said Dr. Paul Joseph Powers, Principal at Jones. “This year, we were honored for high performance.”
Both Lane Tech and Jones are citywide high schools with largely diverse student populations. Both met their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets for this year and last, and both consider their academic and extracurricular offerings unique. Lane Tech, which is home to over 4,000 students, prides itself on offering a wide array of programs focused on multicultural enrichment.
“We have 66 ethnic clubs,” said Dr. Christopher Dignam, Principal at Lane Tech. “They represent and celebrate exactly what we have here, which is every type of kid from every type of background.”
Students from more than 20 of those ethnic clubs performed dances at the Blue Ribbon celebration – musical interludes which were supplemented by performances from the school bands, choirs, drama club, cheerleaders, and several other student organizations.
Jones, which will host a Blue Ribbon ceremony in early December as part of its Homecoming pep rally, touts its College Knowledge Program as part of what earned them the award. Much smaller than Lane Tech, Jones serves 890 students and places enormous emphasis on college readiness.
“We don’t just hand our students their college applications and say good luck,” said Principal Powers. “Our counselors track their progress, both with admissions applications, scholarships, and financial aid to make sure they are staying on track.”
The program has produced impressive results, with 99 percent of 2011 graduates enrolling in a college or university. Jones has also grown its graduation rate by nearly 10 percent over the past five years, and has greatly expanded its offerings of Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
For Lane Tech, AP classes and tests have also been a growing area of success.
“Six years ago, we administered 790 AP tests and had a 46 percent pass rate,” said Dr. Dignam. “Now the number of tests is 2,600, and our pass rate is 72 percent.”
The number of AP tests slated for May 2013 is over 3,000. Lane Tech is also proud of the growth it has seen in its special needs students, and the school has been widely recognized for its STEM Program, which is the largest in CPS.
A Lane Tech alum with a biology background, Principal Dignam has focused much of his attention on growing the school’s math and science programs, especially with regard to girls. “We have 500 students enrolled in STEM, and 220 girls enrolled in GEMS, which is Girls in Engineering, Math and Science,” he said.
Both Dr. Dignam and Dr. Powers traveled to Washington, D.C. in mid-November for the National Blue Ribbon Award Ceremony, which was conducted by U.S. Secretary of Education and former CPS School Superintendent Arne Duncan. Each principal was joined by one teacher – Christopher Lin, a physics instructor named 2011 Teacher of the Year at Jones, and Seth Johnson, a veteran Journalism teacher from Lane Tech.
“It was a spirited event,” said Johnson of the ceremony. “The handing out of awards was accompanied by pop and R&B music, so representatives from the various schools were encouraged to dance across the stage as they received their awards.”
Jones and Lane Tech were among 269 Blue Ribbon schools representing forty-four states and the District of Columbia. Both were presented with a plaque and flag marking their achievement. The Lane Tech flag was prominently displayed onstage during the school’s celebration, while the plaque was presented to the staff and student body. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett offered words of congratulations and pride, as did numerous other speakers, including students, community members, school administrators, and several elected officials.
“We will fly our Blue Ribbon flag proudly from now on,” said Principal Dignam of Lane Tech. “We are very proud to be among America’s most successful schools.”