Top honors

Radix Elementary School was recently recognized by the Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School; an honor bestowed to 362 schools nationwide in 2019. (Anthony J. Mazziotti III/The Sun)

Radix Elementary School hadn’t been a National Blue Ribbon School for one minute when Principal Jill DelConte made a school-wide decree to meet in the all purpose room for an important announcement. That she wanted to share the good news with everyone from the faculty to staff, students, support staff and paraprofessionals speaks volumes to the type of school culture developed at Radix.

The National Blue Ribbon School Program was founded in 1982 by the U.S. Department of Education to recognize public and private elementary, middle and high schools based on overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups, according to the department’s website. This year, 362 schools nationwide received the honor.

DelConte was first notified that her school was nominated for this prestigious award in January. The nomination included an application for the award with a deadline. DelConte immediately reached out to the staff to get their feedback. The teachers obliged and assisted her with the lengthy application process, including curriculum, demographics, strategies for success and school support systems to name a few. The application, due in March, totaled 18 pages. The Department of Education contacted her in September to say Radix made the final list, but everything was embargoed and quiet until the announcement on Sept. 26.

“It’s certainly wonderful, but I have to say the credit goes to the staff,” DelConte said of the new feather in Radix’s cap. “They continued work that’s been done for years. Hopefully I helped them focus on their mission and make sure our kids have the best potential for success.”

All things considered, Radix was thrown a curveball in the beginning of the 2017-18 school year when Holly Glen Elementary School was closed. Radix was assigned a portion of the students from its district neighbor.

“We had to change a lot of what we were doing with regard to support for students,” DelConte recounted. “We had a different approach. When Holly Glen came, we had to shift our thinking and how we were going to support kids. I felt like the staff really rose to the challenge and really did what they had to do, kept their eye on the ball. I felt that was my role in all of this – to give them the support they needed to stay focused on student achievement, be worried about the social-emotional welfare of our kids, because that’s such an important component, and do so at a time when we had a building full of visitors was not a negative to me. I was happy to have Holly Glen folks here, but it changed the way we did business. In spite of having to change things, the staff stepped up and did what they had to do for our kids. That’s what makes this award, right at this time, such an amazing accomplishment.”

Laura Paul, back left and Lori O’Neill, back right, pose with principal Dr. Jill DelConte, kneeling, and their third grade class at Radix Elementary School. (Anthony J. Mazziotti III/The Sun)

A national award convention in Washington, D.C., is scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15, and DelConte plans to be in attendance on behalf of Radix. She was adamant in spreading the accolades between her staff.

“Hillary Clinton once said ‘It takes a village,’  and of all the things she said in her career that’s the one thing I really took to heart and I believe that whole-heartedly. Everybody has a stake in our kids here at Radix, and I’m proud of their efforts and the accomplishment,” she said.

Despite Radix Elementary School’s newfound place on the national map, so to speak, DelConte believes there is still room for improvement, specifically in some of the testing areas.

“My challenge to them was to keep doing what they’re doing because obviously it’s working. But let’s take a look at this area we could probably improve a little bit and start to hone in on that,” she said. “We had a couple areas where we fell below 40th percentile, and even though those scores were above district and state scores – and some national scores – for me that’s not good enough.”

Another aspect DelConte is looking to build on this year is mindfulness. From teaching yoga strategies to breathing techniques and re-centering techniques, the staff at Radix Elementary School is looking to boost its efforts to support social and emotional well-being.

For now, however, DelConte and the staff at Radix are living in the moment and enjoying the recognition.

“I’m so proud to be part of this school community, it’s very humbling to have a little stake in it,” she said. “Part of the application has us reflect on parents and the community at large. We have a very active and supportive PTA and group of parent volunteers, for which without their help, we wouldn’t be the school community we are either. It really is an award for all stakeholders. I’m so proud of the work everybody has done – it’s all for our kids. I’m just tickled by the fact we’re being recognized. I knew what was happening here, now the world can know what a great school we are.”

They even went as far as to submit a float for the township’s Halloween parade.

“When the Phillies won the World Series they had a parade,” DelConte said with smile. “We’re going to jump in the Halloween parade and celebrate Radix.”