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Tampico school ‘over the moon’ about statewide honors

Among most academically improved in ’13

TAMPICO – It’s the little elementary that could.

Tampico Elementary School has won statewide recognition from the Illinois State Board of Education, which this week named the small rural Whiteside County school not only one of its Spotlight Schools, but also one of the most academically improved for 2013.

“We’re over the moon,” Konnie Fry, the school’s principal and the curriculum director for the Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico School District, said Friday.

Making the state’s 2013 Illinois Honor Roll is quite an accomplishment for a school that failed to make adequate yearly progress under federal No Child Left Behind standards as recently as the 2010-11 school year.

Now, the most recent figures show 72 percent of her students making AYP, Fry said.

Tampico is one of only 37 Spotlight Schools, an honor given to “high-poverty, high-performing schools that are beating the odds by overcoming the achievement gap,” the ISBE said in a news release Thursday.

Academic Improvement Awards were given to only 125 schools statewide that showed “substantial improvement,” the release said.

“These Honor Roll schools once again show us that rigorous standards, great teachers and persistence are key to improved student performance,” State Board of Education Chairman Gery J. Chico said in the release.

Fry cites her staff members’ collaborative efforts, the attention they pay to their students, and new teaching methods that emphasize a more one-on-one, individually tailored curriculum, for their success.

“We always look at education as a building block that starts with pre-K. We work together to know our students, to know their needs, to know that those needs are being met,” said Fry, who has been principal there for 3 years.

That can be challenging.

About 75 percent of Tampico Elementary’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, she estimates. In addition, Tampico has become a fairly mobile community, with lots of renters, so students sometimes are there for only a short time before they move away, or they move away and come back.

That kind of mobility makes it tough to provide adequate academic intervention and supervision to those kids who need it, and “that can be a huge barrier to their education,” she said.

Last year, she had about 100 students, pre-K through fourth grade, and nine teachers. This year, in her new building, the student body has more than doubled, to about 250 kids, and she has about 15 teachers, Fry said. That’s because the new elementary school now also houses all of the district’s fifth-graders.

Teachers also are using new teaching methods. Take reading, for example. No longer do they stand at the front of the class, lecturing, while everyone reads from the same textbook, trying to learn at the same pace.

Now, lessons are smaller, and more focused, based on what teachers see each child is needing. There is, in fact, no reading textbook – students are given books that fit their reading level – which helps teachers focus on whatever skill or strategy a child needs to master, such as reading fluency or comprehension, Fry said.

There’s more one-on-one or small group interaction, that’s “very hands-on, very holistic.” If one teacher sees a need, that information is passed on to other teachers, to be incorporated into a student’s overall lesson plan.

The school also emphasizes and rewards students’ good behavior.

“We run a positive behavior program,” Fry said, “because we do believe academics and behavior are linked.”

This year’s theme is Tampico Proud. It’s fitting on many levels.

Fry is excited to share the news, which she received Thursday, with her staff and students.

“We’re exceedingly proud of all the things we’re doing,” she said. “So this is going to be a big, proud party.”

About the process

The Illinois State Board of Education establishes criteria, identifies winners of the awards and administers the Illinois Honor Roll, which is divided into three categories – Spotlight Schools, Academic Excellence and Academic Improvement. Each award has unique criteria that best reflect the diverse circumstances of Illinois schools.

Spotlight Schools – Recognizes 37 high-poverty, high-performing schools that are beating the odds by overcoming the achievement gap.

Academic Excellence Awards – 23 schools that have sustained high performance over at least 3 years.

Academic Improvement Awards – 125 schools that are showing substantial improvement.

The 2013 Illinois Honor Roll roster includes elementary, middle and high schools, including charter schools, and represents 99 public school districts statewide. Downstate schools represent 47 percent of the Honor Roll schools, suburban schools represent 15 percent, and Chicago schools make up 38 percent this year.

Go to for a complete list of winners, and more information.

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