Two Morrison County elementary schools receive important state award

Nathan-on-Education-newTwo Morrison County elementary schools have just earned an important state award. Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota commissioner of education, released information this week showing that Lindbergh Elementary in the Little Falls Community Schools District and Royalton Elementary in the Royalton Public School District are among the state’s top 15 percent of the 853 Minnesota public schools receiving federal funds to help students from low-income families.

These awards were part of a Minnesota Department of Education announcement showing that many of Minnesota’s schools are making progress on statewide tests.

Jill Griffith-McRaith is principal at Lindbergh Elementary. She told me that about 53 percent of the students are from families with low income. She said she gave credit to the teachers and staff.

“When I took over five years ago, we looked at reading and math. We put several things in place, including Reading Corps, 120 minutes of uninterrupted time on reading and 60 minutes on math and a once per month Saturday ‘Reading Adventures’ program,” she said.

Asked whether the school now “teaches to the tests,” Griffith-McRaith responded, “No. We focus on what’s best for students and on good instruction.”

Meanwhile, Royalton Elementary School serves about 484 students, about 32 percent from low-income families. Phil Gurbada, principal at the school, responded via email: “At Royalton Elementary student achievement is our top goal. We believe that every student and family deserve a positive and successful experience at our school.

“To support student achievement, we carefully assess and monitor the progress of each student and provide the support and resources so they can succeed.

“We promote a team approach with staff, parents and students in which everyone participates and has ownership of school goals.

We have a growth-oriented philosophy and believe, with the appropriate support, all the students can make significant learning progress. We don’t blame or retain students; we find ways to help them. The student and parents at all grade levels participate in setting individual learning goals.”

Gurbada emphasized: “At our school, student achievement has a broad meaning and includes social skills, character development and good behavior. The fine arts and technology integration are both a major focus at our school and support our goals of creativity and innovation. This year we added Spanish instruction in the primary grades so the students can learn a foreign language and acquire a more global perspective. We have a comprehensive school with updated learning materials where all subjects are important.”

Terry Moffatt, academic director at Davinci Academy, a charter school in Blaine that also received a MDE award, agreed with Gurbada that it’s not necessary to “test to the test.” She described the school’s Core Knowledge Curriculum where, for example, students read, write, cook and do art projects about Egypt or the Middle Ages. These projects “help students see the value of basic skills in understanding ideas that interest them.”

These are among the 131 schools statewide that were given the “Reward School” designation.

The commissioner also praised 27 schools whose scores previously landed them at the bottom but have now made enough progress to have their low-performing designation removed.

Cassellius told me in a phone call that she “hopes to make much more use of the state’s most effective district and charter public schools.”

This might be, for example, via summer workshops with other schools. That’s a very good idea.

Progress is possible. These schools are helping show how it can be done.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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