Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

The Miracle on 1401 Ridgewood School Road: Transforming Ridgewood Middle School

Kristen Pelster, Ridgewood Middle School, Missouri

Story posted December, 2007. Story updated February 24, 2015.

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• Zero explusions and just two suspensions (0.4% suspension rate) in 2014
• Outperforms the state in English and Math on standardized tests

Stymied by crumbling facilities, poor achievement and a general malaise, Ridgewood Middle School in Arnold, Missouri faced serious challenges in transforming the school into a safe and exciting place to learn. Angry parents regularly called the school about the poor conditions, and many demanded transfers. School administrators and teachers were equally discouraged by a rowdy and apparently apathetic student body.  

Kristen Pelster, Ridgewood's principal, attributes "the miracle on 1401 Ridgewood School Road" to their adoption of character education. Pelster knew that physical changes in the school were a necessary but insufficient step in transforming the learning environment. So, under the direction of Marvin Berkowitz and the Leadership Academy of Character Education, Pelster embarked on a revolutionary journey. She began by engaging the community grouping discussions to set goals and uncover core concerns. What emerged was Ridgewood's mantra - Attendance, Academics, and Attitude (AAA).

The cornerstone of Ridgewood's philosophy has been its embrace of students as leaders. In fact, a cross-section of seventh and eighth graders takes part in a leadership training class called Teen Leadership. In Character Council, students are trained as facilitators who take on various roles in character-related discussions and activities that take place once a week in advisory class. Additionally, service learning activities are at the heart of Ridgewood's character-building curriculum. Pelster empowered Ridgewood's teachers to take on a leadership role of their own. The Faculty Leadership Team keeps an eye on what is happening in the school and brainstorms ideas for improvement. Last but not least, the school keeps parents well informed and involved in their children's progress.

Ridgewood MS 12web2.jpgThe results have been truly phenomenal. Teachers attest to a feeling of family at the school, and students point to their experiences as "life changing." Based on dramatic improvements in test scores, Ridgewood has been designated as one of Missouri's Top Ten Most Improved Schools in four of the last five years. Disciplinary referrals have dropped 70%, and the failure rate is 0. By fixing the school building, engaging the teachers, inspiring the students, and motivating the parents, Ridgewood has made great strides in creating and sustaining an environment in which students respect themselves, each other, and their opportunities to learn.

When Tim Crutchley, the school's previous principal, took matters literally into his own hands by pulling down a rusty fence on school grounds, he acted out the key lesson at Ridgewood Middle School - Students, teachers and communities must work together to inspire student success.

Further details about this story can be found in our sources:
Character Education Partnership, "2006 National Schools of Character: Award Winning Practices" under "Miracle in Missouri: A Journey from Worst to Best" (p 26-29), 2006

Ridgewood Middle School

Editor's Note: Kristen Pelster is no longer principal of Ridgewood Middle School. Jaime Cavato currently holds this role.

Photos courtesy of Kristen Pelster and Ridgewood Middle School