Two east metro schools are in an "Elite 8" when it comes to international public-policy debate.

East Ridge High in Woodbury and St. Paul Academy and Summit School have advanced to the eight-team finals of the International Public Policy Forum being held April 2 in New York City.

For SPA, the event will mark its second consecutive appearance in the finals.

Last fall, competition began with teams from 28 states and 29 countries submitting qualifying-round essays on the topic: "Resolved: Genetically modified organisms are essential to global food security."

To earn a spot in the finals, teams had to win three single-elimination contests involving the volleying of written positions via e-mail. They will switch to oral debates in New York.

SPA is facing East Mountain High of Sandia Park, N.M., in the first round, and East Ridge will compete against Bellaire High of Bellaire, Texas.

"The students from East Ridge High School and St. Paul Academy and Summit School have emerged as two of the best teams in this contest," said William A. Brewer III, who founded the public-policy forum.

SPA has an all-sophomore team: Adnan Askari, Numi Katz, Ben Konstan and Emilia Topp-Johnson.

East Ridge's squad is made up of juniors: Kevin Bi, Bradley Cho and Alicia Zhang.

Anthony Lonetree

3 principals make finals

Three metro area principals are finalists in this year's Minnesota National Distinguished Principal recognition: Tim Bell, principal at Five Hawks Elementary School in Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, Brad Gustafson, principal at Greenwood Elementary School in Wayzata Public Schools and Joey Page, principal at Richfield STEM Elementary School in Richfield Public Schools.

The award honors outstanding elementary and middle school principals, according to the Minnesota Elementary School Principals' Association's website. That group partners with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and insurance agency VALIC to sponsor the award.

Public school principals are nominated by their peers in home states, the website said. One winning principal is chosen from each state and Washington, D.C.

Paul Helberg, principal of Cherry View Elementary in Lakeville, wrote Bell's nomination letter, calling him a great collaborator. The district's website noted that Bell has dyed his hair pink and camped out in a canoe to reward students for attaining goals.

Gustafson was nominated by Mark French, the Minnesota 2015 National Distinguished Principal and principal at Rice Lake Elementary in Osseo schools. "He has implemented programs at his school that engage students, support staff members, and involve the community," French wrote.

Page had nomination letters from several members of the Richfield community. Page has also won statewide awards for being an exceptional Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports model school.

Beena Raghavendran

34 make semifinals

The race has grown tighter for Minnesota Teacher of the Year with the candidate pool whittled down to 34 from an initial group of 115 statewide, according to Education Minnesota.

From this pack of 34 — chosen by a selection panel of community leaders — a group of about 10 finalists will be selected. The winner will be named at a May 15 banquet at the Radisson Blu Mall of America in Bloomington.

The program, organized by statewide teachers union Education Minnesota, announced the semifinalists in a release available at

Beena Raghavendran