In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.
Garfield Elementary and Harrison Elementary are two of the six elementary schools in Brainerd (Minnesota) Public Schools, all of which were awarded Blue Ribbon status by the U.S. Department of Education in 2014.
Garfield is a K–4 school with 388 students, of whom 50 percent are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and 20 percent receive special education services. Harrison, also a K–4 school, serves 258 students, 66 percent of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and 16 percent who receive special education services.
On State tests, both schools have reduced achievement gaps significantly. In 2010, Garfield was directed by the Minnesota Department of Education to focus on increasing the reading skills of students with disabilities. Two years later, the State recognized it as a School of Celebration because of the progress it had made. In 2013, it achieved Reward status, meaning that it was among the top 15 percent of the Title I schools in the State based on student proficiency, growth and progress toward closing achievement gaps.
Both schools used Title I money for early literacy interventions such as Reading Recovery and the Leveled Literacy Intervention System.
Q. What did your school do to close achievement gaps?
Jonathan Clark, Garfield principal: The programs and initiatives that helped Garfield Elementary School win these honors are not fancy, new or secret. They are comprised of hard work, team building, fidelity of instruction and data-driven decision-making.
At Garfield, all teachers, school, staff, and students have the same expectation—that everyone will achieve. We raised our expectations above State standards. All of our students—from gifted and talented to special education—are constantly being challenged.