Staff, parents, students earn Maple Grove school an A+

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2007 - 4:33 PM

Test scores at Rush Creek made it one of eight in state to earn No Child Left Behind's "Blue Ribbon."

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From left, kindergartner Ananya Mahapatra, sixth-grader McKenna Berg, sixth-grader Katrina Carney and kindergartner Ashley Tofte worked together to make rubs of a tree’s bark. Kinder-buddies is a program at Rush Creek Elementary designed to promote a sense of community.

This week, the principal of Rush Creek Elementary School in Maple Grove will be in Washington to accept a glowing report card on behalf of the whole school.

Rush Creek is one of eight Minnesota schools to be given a "Blue Ribbon School" designation by the U.S. Department of Education's No Child Left Behind program, as a result of students' consistently high testing performance. Principal Don Johnson and second-grade teacher Phyllis Rither will travel to Washington, where they will be given an official plaque and a flag to mark their achievement.

Johnson insists that the good things going on at his school are happening at schools all over the Osseo School District. But it's hard to downplay the numbers. In the 2005-06 testing period, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards for reading and math ranged from 83 and 88 percent in sixth-grade math and reading to a staggering 98 and 97 percent in third-grade math and reading.

The school was notified of the award early last month after a yearlong process that was sparked by a nomination from Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren.

"I had goosebumps," said Rither, who helped to write the school's application. "I truly did. We really reflected on a lot of things as a group. We thought, 'Wow,' as we looked at the application. We thought, there are things this school does really well."

On the surface, you might not see what might set this school apart.

What you might see is a friendly staff, a student-produced daily news broadcast, colorful student artwork lining the halls, sports fields and a 12-acre nature center adjoining the school's property.

What you might not see include a staff driven to improve, with site- and district-based professional development programs, a supportive administration and consistent parent support -- with an active and well-financed PTO and nearly 100 percent attendance at parent-teacher conferences.

You can't underestimate parent involvement in the school's success, Johnson said. Many students arrive at kindergarten with a year or more of preschool under their belts, and with parents who are willing and able to hold them and the school accountable for their achievement.

"Research backs up parental involvement in a child's education; usually results follow in a positive way," he said. "We see that all the time here. Students go home to a place where they have a spot to do their homework, where they are encouraged to succeed, where they are expected to follow through. That's not always happening everywhere. [Parents] have a lot of respect for their children's education."

Rush Creek's application, written from last year's demographics, listed 850 students. Of those students, 12 percent were listed as ethnic minorities; one student was listed as having a limited proficiency in English; and 3 percent qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch. The school had an autism program that served 33 students, and a variety of other special-needs programs that served 113 students.

Johnson was thoughtful when asked how much of the test achievement is within the school's control, and how many factors -- such as an affluent and stable student base and family involvement -- are not.

"The control piece comes when all involved work together," he said. "It wouldn't take long if the staff wasn't committed to work with kids for some things to start falling behind. ... We continually talk about wanting to do better, There's always room for improvement no matter where you're at in the continuum."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

  • MINNESOTA'S BLUE RIBBON SCHOOLS

    Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Elementary School, Brooten, Minn.

    Hillcrest Community School, Bloomington

    J.W. Smith Elementary School, Bemidji, Minn.

    Kimberly Lane Elementary School, Plymouth

    Oak Grove Elementary School, Bloomington

    Park Rapids Area Century Elementary School, Park Rapids, Minn.

    Rush Creek Elementary School, Maple Grove

    Washington Elementary School, Rochester, Minn.

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