St. Isaac Jogues earns Blue Ribbon

Principal credits students and teachers for their role in receiving national honor

By Ken Knutson

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St. Isaac Jogues School last won a National Blue Ribbon Award for academic achievement in 1990. When Carol Burlinski took over as the Hinsdale school's principal a decade ago, her marching orders were clearly articulated by then-SIJ pastor Father William DeSalvo.

"Father DeSalvo said, 'I want you to get that Blue Ribbon,' " Burlinski recounted.

Last month the U.S. Department of Education announced SIJ was one of only 40 nonpublic schools across the country bestowed with the honor this year.

"This is like validation of everything you've been working on academically," she said. "It's so gratifying to receive that."

Numbers alone don't make the grade.

"The scores are the initial gate to let you apply, and then you have to do a checklist to show how this really happens," Burlinski explained, citing other factors like family engagement and technology integration. "There's so many other pieces."

Burlinski was familiar with the arduous process from her previous position as principal at Buffalo Grove High School, which earned Blue Ribbon status during her tenure.

"I knew the detail that was involved in the application," she said, noting that scores from grades three to seven are assessed for award eligibility. "That helped me to know where our strengths were. It takes a lot of auditing and professional development and instructional strategies that you use to deliver all of that."

Speaking about the award on Tuesday in a kindergarten classroom, Burlinski said realizing the goal was no overnight endeavor.

"If you're going to achieve the scores in grade three, you better know what you're doing here in kindergarten so that you can get there," she said. "You have to build that scaffolding all the way down."

Only 50 nonpublic schools in the U.S. can be nominated each year.

"That's why it's a little bit tricky because your competition is so tough," Burlinski said.

The school was on the verge of qualifying in 2019, she said, but then COVID threw a wrench into process.

"That was a little bit of a road block, but we were able to reset," she said.

On Sept. 10 she called the school community together to reveal the big news. It was even livestreamed for parents who couldn't be there in person.

"I told everyone it really is an award that belongs to the students who actually do that work and the teachers who are the instructors who help the children do what they need to do," Burlinski said. "To see it culminate and pay off with the public announcement validating your academic achievement is extremely rewarding.

"It clearly is the triage of parents, students, teachers and the staff," she added.

A large, official Blue Ribbon seal now adorns the school's main entrance. Downstairs in the STEM lab, eighth-graders are constructing a mini-golf course.

"It's amazing," said student Emily Drumm of the honor.

Burlinski said parents remarked to her that they've long considered SIJ Blue Ribbon-worthy.

"It's just kind of the exclamation point," Burlinski said.

Next month she and Father Burke Masters, current SIJ pastor, will go to Washington D.C. to formerly accept the award.

"It's exciting," she said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean