For the second year running, Blythe Park School in Riverside was singled out as one of Illinois’ top elementary schools, while Komarek School in North Riverside has been named as one of the state’s most academically improved schools in the past year.

Last week, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), in conjunction with Northern Illinois University, released its Illinois Honor Roll highlighting schools whose scores in the 2005 Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) either show improvement over a period of time or demonstrate superior academic excellence.

The ISBE recognized Blythe Park School as an Academic Excellence Award winner for the second straight year. The award is given to elementary schools in which at least 90 percent of all students meet or exceed state standards. Since 2003, Blythe Park students have fared extremely well on the ISATs. In 2003 and 2004 just over 95 percent of students met or exceeded state standards at Blythe Park, while in 2005 93.4 percent met or exceeded those standards.

Just 87 elementary schools in the state were named Academic Excellence Award winners.

“Without question, the district is very proud of the accomplishments of Blythe Park School,” said District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson. “As I look at the others, all of our schools are near that 90-plus percentile and all are moving in the direction of success that we’ve seen at Blythe Park.

“I’m incredibly impressed and proud of the accomplishments of all our schools.”

Komarek keeps improving

North Riverside’s Komarek School, a K-8 institution that serves North Riverside west of First Avenue and part of Broadview, was named as one of 200 elementary and K-8 schools in the state receiving an Academic Improvement Award from the ISBE.

In order to qualify for the award schools must experience at least a 7.5-point increase in the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the ISAT from 2004 to 2005 or a 15-point increase between 2003-05. Komarek School saw a 12.4-point gain from 2004 to 2005. Since 2003, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the ISAT have jumped from 67 to 79.4.

The improvement in scores comes despite three straight years of double-digit enrollment increases at the school, including a 19 percent increase in 2005-06. Part of the increase was due to the closure of nearby Mater Christi School. But of the 70 new students the district enrolled in 2005-06, just 19 came from Mater Christi.

“With that many new students, I thought our scores would be balanced or decline a little,” said District 94 Superintendent Neil Pellicci.

Pellicci credits the increase in part to a number of new initiatives during the last school year, which included the hiring of a reading specialist, instituting an after-school homework help session and starting a “Leading to Reading” program stressing phonics instruction in grades one through three.

In addition, the district hired additional math and reading instructors in grades one through five that allowed the school to keep class sizes small in those core subjects.

Instead of dividing students into two sections for reading and math, we could divide them into three sections,” Pellicci said.

While Komarek hasn’t received the results from its 2006 ISATs yet, Pellicci said that the school’s latest Stanford Achievement Test scores look promising. The Stanford Tests are given annually to all students, with each grade focusing in on different subject areas.

“Most grade levels, on a nationally normed test, scored one to one-and-a-half years above grade level,” Pellicci said of the school’s Stanford Test scores. “The highest class was 1 year, 7 months above grade level. That’s a little better than usual.”