School briefs: Mahtomedi High ranks 2nd in U.S. News & World Report list of top schools

  • Updated: May 3, 2014 - 2:00 PM
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Larry Underkoffler, at left, an art teacher at Southwest Junior High in Forest Lake, illustrated the book “Piko, The Dog With No Tail.” Tom Gillaspy, at right, is the book’s author. It’s the first illustrator credit for Underkoffler.

A year after being named the state’s top high school, Mahtomedi High finished in second place behind Edina this year in the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of the nation’s best high schools.

The school was Washington County’s lone gold-medal recipient in the rankings, announced last month.

Woodbury and East Ridge high schools, both in the South Washington County School District, also finished in the Top 20 among Minnesota high schools and earned silver medals under the publication’s three-part ranking process.

Schools are ranked based on how students perform on state math and reading tests and how prepared they are for college. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test results are used to gauge college-readiness.

Mahtomedi High has about 1,175 students. In 2013, 87 percent were proficient in reading, according to state test data.

“This accolade is a testament to the hard work that happens in the preschool through grade 12 classrooms across our district each and every day,” Superintendent Mark Larson said in a statement. Nationally, the school was ranked 224th; Edina placed 197th.

This fall, the Mahtomedi School District plans to ask voters to back a proposal for additional operating revenues.

A forum on the subject is set for Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Wildwood Elementary School.

The district is seeking community input on possible levy proposals as well as budget cuts that would be needed if a levy proposal is defeated in November.

Cottage Grove

Chamber announces educators of the year

A Park High music teacher and an elementary school paraprofessional who works with special education students have been named recipients of this year’s education awards from the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce.

Benjamin O’Connor, who conducts choirs at Park in Cottage Grove, was nominated by student Samantha Johnson, a South Washington County news release said.

“He has the traits that I think all teachers should have: compassion, work ethic and true belief and love for his job, and more importantly, his students,” she said.

O’Connor has taught at Park for five years.

Mary Johannsen, a special-education paraprofessional at Grey Cloud Elementary in Cottage Grove, was named educational support person of the year.

The district said that she has worked with the school’s high-need students for more than 14 years and helps other Grey Cloud students learn how to include students with disabilities in school activities.

Johannsen was nominated by work colleagues and parents.

“Mary continues to inspire any and all, year in and year out, with her endless devotion, knowledge, genuine care, creative ideas and love for learning,” teacher Jane Neils said.

O’Connor and Johannsen will be honored at the chamber’s spring banquet and annual meeting on May 16.

Forest Lake

Junior high teacher illustrates kids’ book

Larry Underkoffler, an art teacher at Southwest Junior High in Forest Lake, has provided the illustrations for a new children’s book, “Piko, The Dog With No Tail.”

The book, the first such venture for Underkoffler and its author, Tom Gillaspy, tells the story of a dog that searches for her tail and “discovers friendship, bravery and true beauty,” according to the publisher’s website.

Gillaspy is a former state demographer who has written poetry in the past.

Underkoffler has taught art at the junior high level for 20 years but had no previous experience as a book illustrator, according to the Forest Lake School District.

Autographed copies of the book are available at Southwest Junior High for $16.

Anthony Lonetree



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