I’ve had some great moments as a CPS principal. But seeing the faces of my students, staff and families when we were named a National Blue Ribbon School tops the list. The Poe staff and families deserve much of the credit for creating such a positive school environment that supports student learning every step of the way. Most of all, though, I want to thank my students, whose hard work has cemented our legacy as a truly outstanding school.

What Exactly is a National Blue Ribbon School?

For the past 35 years, the U.S. Department of Education has recognized schools that achieve exemplary learning standards, or that are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap. Less than 350 schools throughout the U.S. received this distinction in 2017, and we are exceedingly proud to count our school community among them.

This is the latest chapter in our extensive Chicago history. At the turn of the 20th Century, Poe served the children of rail workers in the city’s Pullman district, then became a classical school in 1979. Since that time, we have been providing an excellent education to predominantly African American students on Chicago’s south side, and are just the second south side school ever to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award.

We are thrilled with this designation, because it affirms everything that is special about Poe Classical School. Not just our staunch academic standing, but the success we are having in shaping citizens of the world.

Our Success is Tied to our Philosophy: Learn, Lead, and Serve.

Our school pillars are Learn, Lead, and Serve, and we emphasize each in equal measure. It’s true that we have high expectations in our classrooms, but academics are just the beginning at Poe. We also believe that all students possess gifts and talents that will make them good leaders, even if that leadership extends only as far as their own destiny. We want them to explore and develop these leadership skills so that they learn to take control of their lives at an early age.

We also encourage our students to serve. Whether it’s gathering crayons and paper for hurricane-ravaged schools, collecting shoes for children in third-world countries, or raising funds for the Make A Wish Foundation, an organization from which one of their classmates recently benefited, these student-led projects make thinking of and doing for others the norm for children at Poe.

We Are More Than a School. We Are a Family.

Why has this combination of learning, leadership and service worked so well for us? Because the adults at Poe have made supporting our children their passion. Every morning without fail, the teachers and staff here lineup to greet students as they come through the door. This means that a 4th-grader at our school doesn’t just get a smile and a word from her current teacher. She gets that same greeting from her former 3rd-grade teacher, her future 5th-grade teacher, our school counselor, our clerk, and me.

This kind of continuity is what makes people lay down roots at Poe. Few teachers leave Poe once they’ve started here, and even fewer students move on to other schools. In fact, all but two of last year’s 8th graders have been together since kindergarten. We truly are a family here, and it is those deep, meaningful ties that allow for student success, and that lead to landmark accomplishments like the 2017 National Blue Ribbon Award.