Yinghua Academy, a Chinese immersion charter school in Minneapolis, has been named a 2015 National Blue Ribbon School for exceptional performance — one of 15 charter schools nationally receiving the honor.

The annual award from the U.S. Department of Education recognizes schools for academic excellence or closing the achievement gap among student subgroups. Yinghua is one of seven schools in Minnesota and 335 across the country to be honored.

“I’m completely amazed by our kids and teachers,” said Sue Berg, executive director of the school.

It has been about 15 years since a school in Minneapolis won the award. Other schools in the state that were honored include Mahtomedi Senior High School, Friedell Middle School in Rochester, Monroe Elementary School in Mankato, Plainview-Elgin-Millville 4-6 School, Sleepy Eye Elementary School and Washington-Kosciusko Elementary School in Winona. The Department of Education annually selects National Blue Ribbon School winners from both public and private schools nationwide.

“You represent excellence — in vision, in implementation, and in results — and we want to learn as much as we can from you,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a video message congratulating the winners.

At Yinghua Academy, students from kindergarten to eighth grade delve into Chinese language and culture starting the first day of school. In lower levels, most of the curriculum is in Chinese; in fifth through eighth grades, instruction is half in English and half in Chinese.

The school started with 76 students; today, it has 750. About 7 percent of their parents speak Chinese, Berg said.

“We’re not trying to be a Chinese school in America,” Berg said. “We’re trying to be an American school that combines the very best of East and West, in terms of language and culture.”

Representatives from the honored schools will head to Washington, D.C., in November for a recognition ceremony.


St. Paul’s Ortiz named Latino Teacher of the Year

Juanita Ortiz, a Spanish language and Latino culture teacher at Phalen Lake Hmong Magnet School, is Minnesota’s Latino Teacher of the Year.

Ortiz, who has taught in St. Paul Public Schools for 10 years, was nominated for the award by Navigate MN, an organization created to help immigrant students in Minnesota pursue higher education.

Ortiz received the award at the Navigate MN Minnesotanos ceremony on Oct. 1 at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis. She was nominated by a member of Navigate who speaks each year to Latino parents at Phalen.

“I knew St. Paul had the best [English language learners] program in the state, so I wanted to come here,” Ortiz said.

“It’s certainly a well-deserved honor,” Phalen Lake Principal Catherine Rich said. “She’s a strong advocate for students and the community, and building relationships between the community, the students and the schools.”

Ortiz is an El Paso, Texas, native who spent her early childhood living in Mexico with her grandmother and moved to Minnesota when she was 9 years old. She was an education major at Minnesota State University, Mankato, when she was hired to join Phalen Lake. She teaches students in grades K-3.