By Christopher Gamble, Principal at Solomon Elementary School

Earlier this month, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to accept the National Blue Ribbon Award on behalf of Solomon Elementary, where I’ve been privileged to serve as principal for the past three years. It was one of the most incredible moments of my professional life. I was grateful for the opportunity, and proud beyond words of the students and staff who are at the heart of the school I call home.

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. Fewer than 350 schools around the country received this distinction in 2017, and we are proud to count Solomon among them.

How We Did It

Solomon isn’t fancy. We don’t have a premiere science lab or the latest in cutting-edge technology, and that’s by choice. Our philosophy is simple – invest in experienced, high-quality teachers and watch them transform lives

The teachers at Solomon lay down roots in our community. It’s not uncommon for an 8th-grader to see the Kindergarten teacher who taught him still in her same classroom, hard at work with this year’s crop of 6-year-olds. We are committed to helping these teachers grow, and in turn, they help our students flourish.

What’s special about the Solomon Blue Ribbon?

Many Blue Ribbon schools are selective-enrollment schools, meaning that students must test well academically to get in the door. Not Solomon. We are a neighborhood school tucked away in Peterson Park, and we serve every student in our neighborhood boundary regardless of academic ability.  For a school like ours to achieve Blue Ribbon results – well, that speaks volumes about our talented staff, our dedicated students, and the support we receive from our families and school community.

Strength in Diversity

Diversity isn’t a buzz word at Solomon. It’s just who we are. Our students speak more than 40 languages, the most common of which are Arabic, Romanian, and Vietnamese. Kids here spend every day learning what is special about different cultures, which is why, when they move from a one class per grade elementary school to some of Chicago’s largest high schools, they don’t miss a beat. High school may put multiculturalism on a larger scale, but Solomon has already taught them that the world is wide, and that there is room enough for everyone.  

A Truly Inclusive Environment

In this era of divisiveness, it’s refreshing to see students of all races, cultures and abilities come together at our school. Around 20 percent of the students at Solomon have some learning challenges, but the expectations we have for them are no less than for any other student. Children with diverse learning needs are not isolated here. They are challenged academically, and are valued in our school community.  That’s why these students come from all over Chicago’s north and north west side to be part of our cluster program.

It’s More Than a School. It’s a Home.

One of the greatest things about leading a small school is that it’s possible to know every child. I don’t recognize the kids at Solomon. I know them. The same goes for my teachers and our entire staff. That’s why the students here feel as though they are truly cared for. Ask them what they think of Solomon, and they’ll tell you it’s home.

Receiving the Blue Ribbon was the thrill of a lifetime. It shows us we’re doing something right, and gives my school community the recognition it deserves. It’s also proof that a diverse, close-knit community with a dedicated staff can make any school – even a small neighborhood school that flies under the radar – the one to watch.