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“You can’t be successful if you don’t build teams.”

— Patricia Ransford, principal


  • Arcadia, Illinois
  • Matteson School District
  • Grades K- 4
  • Suburban
  • DTM awarded in 2013

School Overview

Tucked into a small neighborhood in the vast Chicago suburbs known as Southland sits Arcadia Elementary School. This kindergarten through third-grade school, recognized as a Dispelling the Myth school in 2013, houses more than 500 mostly African American students.

Arcadia’s longtime success in helping just about all students meet state reading and math standards has built trust in the community, evidence of which could be seen at this fall’s back-to-school night. Families flocked in, often accompanied by older siblings returning to visit favorite teachers. Community is a byword at Arcadia, where classroom rosters are built carefully to ensure a mixture of students who can work well together; leadership teams are built carefully to capitalize on the individual strengths of teachers; and an extensive volunteer program welcomes parents and neighbors as members of the school community. “You can’t be successful if you don’t build teams,” says Patricia Ransford, who has been principal for 16 years.

Within their teams, teachers say they are encouraged to do whatever they can to expose their students to a wide variety of experiences, building vocabulary and background knowledge along the way. So, for example, first-graders had a sledding party on a mound created by the dirt that used to sit beneath the school’s foundation, complete with hot chocolate and essays about the experience of sliding down snow —an experience the students hadn’t had before. And second-graders put on an opera, complete with essays on character development and guidance from Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

All of this is part of why Arcadia has been so successful on the state assessments — about 70 percent of third-grade students exceed math standards, compared with 43 percent of students in the state. But it all rests on the conviction that, as Ransford says, “If the kids don’t get it one way, we have to figure out a different way.”

More About Arcadia

• A Huffington Post article by Karin Chenoweth profiles Arcadia Elementary School.

• School website

• District website

• Great Schools profile

• More information about academic achievement in Illinois

DTM School Directory