Under the leadership of Dr. Cynthia Kalogeropoulos, Grove Avenue Elementary has won three National Blue Ribbon School awards—in 1993, 2007, and most recently in 2016. In her 31-year tenure as principal, Dr. K, as she is affectionately known, has made it her mission to teach students that they are “valued and valuable.” Her obvious love for her students and their families is evident on entering the school building: the main hall displays a portrait of every child and his or her family. She has also showed she values family time by eliminating homework this year so that students can spend time reading or interacting with their families unstressed by schoolwork obligations.
Dr. K’s personal approach is exemplified by her daily presence in the school cafeteria—setting up, clearing tables, urging students to eat healthy foods, convincing them to try a new vegetable from the school garden, and providing food for children in need. “You’re only as good as the next child you help,” she says. Her office is covered with pictures and notes given to her over the years by students who have grown under her wise and compassionate leadership. A mailbox outside her office welcomes dialogue with students and staff.
Her affection, undergirded by high standards and support, extends to faculty and staff as well. At the beginning of the school year, Dr. K makes room for staff members to share their personal stories and talents building on them throughout the year to encourage new ideas and higher expectations. She also encourages teachers and students to create clubs that will stretch students’ imaginations and skills; students need only to leave her a handwritten request to propose a new club. Students have initiated popular clubs such as an Environmental club, a Coding Club, and recently, as Maker-Breaker Club, where students repurpose materials to build new creations.
With a student body that is highly diverse culturally and linguistically, Dr. K has opened avenues to make these differences a source of pride. Thanks to her belief that all children can learn, given the right ways to reach them, Grove Avenue has consistently ranked among the best schools in Illinois. Dr. K has worked tirelessly to provide teaching strategies and platforms that align with each student’s individual learning style and makes sure the school library and computer lab are open before school to provide students with technology and resources they may not have at home. Staff members and community volunteers continue the school day with students through Grove’s Homework Club, providing enrichment and support to students in need.
Dr. K’s emphasis on reading has earned Grove Avenue two Exemplary School of Reading Awards by the International Literary Association. Every January Grove hosts a five-week Family Reading Program designed to excite students and families about reading; all students leave for summer break with library books and reading calendars to record their summer reading accomplishments. An active participant in developing a Masters of Education in Literacy program at Judson University, she provides educators with ongoing study of modern literacy techniques; her impact has been felt beyond the building and district.
Dr. K believes children are powerful and can make a difference in the world and students have collected food each week for the local food pantry, spent time working at the Northern Illinois Food Depository, and donated vegetables from the school garden to the needy. Grove Avenue has also held a Kids’ Garage Sale where students contributed their own gently used toys and treasures, earning nearly $20,000 for Heifer International.
Describing Grove Avenue as Dr. K’s “life’s work,” a teacher describes her as exemplifying innovative leadership, and “a transformational trailblazer who develops a vision to guide change through inspiration.” As one parent noted, “Dr. K. is in a class of her own. We feel so lucky that our son has had her show him the fun and importance of school.” Dr. K is retiring this year but her impact will be felt for a long time.