This past week, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Elementary School was declared a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School.
For 30 years, the U.S. Department of Education's National Blue Ribbon School program has recognized the most successful public and private elementary, middle and high schools in America. This year, RTR Elementary was among seven Minnesota schools and 269 schools across the country to be honored.
"It's a wonderful honor, not only for our school, but for our staff, students, parents and community," RTR Elementary Principal Amy Christensen said. "We're so excited. It's unbelievable."
Having found out that Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Elementary School had been recognized as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School on Friday, Principal Amy Christensen surprised the staff with a congratulatory cake. The students also received a treat Friday in the form of ice cream.
On Friday, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recognized the 2012 Blue Ribbon Schools, RTR fourth- and fifth-graders had the opportunity to watch a video stream online of a school in Virginia receiving the token award.
"Great schools don't happen by chance," Duncan said during the presentation ceremony at Arlington Traditional Elementary School (Virginia). "Great schools happen by design."
Then, the students learned that their own school had been recognized as one of the best in the nation.
"It was total excitement," Christensen said. "The fourth-graders came out of the computer lab and were high-fiving me and hugging me."
Afterward, the students had ice cream. Staff members of the 263 elementary students enjoyed a celebratory cake.
"It's truly a wonderful honor," Christensen said. "I am so excited to be a part of it."
Christensen, who is in her ninth year as the elementary principal, attributes the award to a number of components.
"Differentiating to meet the individual needs of the kids in the classroom is part of it," she said. "Doing Daily 5, Accelerated Math and Accelerated Reading and Study Island allows you to individualize for each student."
Christensen also praised the staff at RTR Elementary for their efforts in continuous improvement.
"We have a great teaching staff willing to expand and learn new things," she said. "They're continuing their own education and not keeping things static even though we have high test scores. They're very dedicated."
The third element, of course, is the students themselves.
"We have hardworking students willing to give their all," Christensen said. "We kind of have a tradition of high test scores so kids are taking that on and want to do their best to succeed."
RTR Elementary qualified for the elite honor in the Exemplary High Performing Schools category. The second way schools can be recognized nationally is by showing significant improvements in student achievement levels.
"They look through five years of our test scores (third- through fifth-grade math and reading)," Christensen said. "You had to be consistently high and match up with the other criteria in order to get nominated."
After being nominated and receiving an application from the USDE, RTR needed to fill out "an intense application," Christensen said. From there, the district was required to go through two different rounds of review, in April and in May.
"We also had to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) from our test scores from last year," she said. "The waiting was a little stressful."
It will be five years before RTR Elementary could be eligible for the National Blue Ribbon School award again. In November, Christensen will join a staff member in accepting the award, on behalf of the school, at a celebration presentation in Washington, D.C.
"I'm excited to do that," she said. "This is an amazing honor for our school."
A total of 219 public and 50 private schools will be recognized during the Nov. 12-13 ceremony. Other 2012 Blue Ribbon Schools in Minnesota include Dassel Elementary School in Dassel, Hilltop Primary School in Minnetrista, Humphrey Elementary School in Waverly, Normandale Elementary School in Edina, Team Academy in Waseca and Withrow Elementary School in Hugo.
"Our nation has no greater responsibility than helping all children realize their full potential," Duncan said in a news release. "Schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers. Their work reflects the conviction that every child has promise and that education is the surest pathway to a strong, secure future."