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Roosevelt and Rossman elementary schools both honored

Detroit Lakes has some excellent students, staff and elementary schools, and their awards this year prove it.

Both Roosevelt and Rossman elementary schools were awarded the School of Excellence honors from the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association. There were 12 schools chosen throughout the state for the honors.

“It’s the acknowledgement of dedication to our school and students and how far we’ve come,” Rossman Elementary physical education teacher Kris Swenson said.

“It’s clear that Detroit Lakes holds their schools in high regard. (They) have wonderful facilities,” MESPA Executive Director Jon Millerhagen said.

He said that he has visited both Rossman and Roosevelt schools in the past and that after talking with staff and students, the district feels “exceptional.”

“Good programming, good leadership, good teachers,” he added.

The School of Excellence program, which began in 1984, has a mission of promoting “excellence through a rigorous evaluation process that showcases dynamic schools of the 21st century.”

The rigorous evaluation process takes about two years, and consists of staff members rating their school and backing up those ratings with hard data and proof.

Swenson said that the school staff evaluate and score themselves, the students and the school and then provide background information and proof “on why we felt we were at this score. There’s a lot of concrete data behind it.”

The six standards the school is judged on include learning centered, quality instruction, Community engagement, knowledge and data, diverse communities and 21st Century learners.

Once the principal’s association receives the completed applications, a group of 12 principals across the state sit on the board and come together to score the applications on a rubric, or a standard of performance for a defined population. If the application meets the standards of that rubric, the district is validated as a School of Excellence.

Depending on the amount of districts that apply each year, there is a different number of validations each year. Millerhagen said there are typically 18-20 applicants a year.

Though the awards are presented to the district as a whole, the principals of each school are singled out because of their direction. Roosevelt’s principal is Renee Kerzman, and Sandy Nelson is principal at Rossman Elementary.

“The process that the staff goes through,” Millerhagen said of those districts that apply, “takes a lot of time and a lot of conversation and a lot of self-reflection of themselves.”

If the school committee gave themselves a lower score, they provided information and action plans on how they plan to improve that score over the next few years and fulfill goals.

Since there are only 12 schools chosen throughout the state, it was an honor to have two of them in one town.

“Both schools were very confident,” Swenson said of their applications, “but it’s exciting to see both won.”

Though Detroit Lakes’ two elementary schools have taken the honors home this year, they aren’t the only districts in the area to claim the honor over the years.

In 2008-09, Sam Skaaland and Lake Park-Audubon Elementary received the award. In 1996-97, Jerry Hanson at Heart of the Hearts/Dent Elementary in Perham did, and in 1996-97, Nelson took home the honors with his direction over Washington Elementary in Detroit Lakes, which is now closed.

In 1986-87, Jack Stouten and Wadena Elementary took home the award.

Millerhagen said one of the unique aspects of the School of Excellence program is that it’s rare throughout the United States to have this program and recognition.

He said there have been changes to the program over the years, especially the last 10 years due to the No Child Left Behind standards.

“To really meet the needs of accountability and to be current with laws and statutes that have taken place,” he said. “They’ve increased rigor and desire for communities to make sure their schools are of high rigor.”

Once awarded the recognition, a school holds that School of Excellence title for seven years. After that time period, a school can go through the application process again.

Roosevelt Elementary celebrated its award in March, and Rossman Elementary will celebrate its award on May 20.

The day will consist of a short parade at 8:30 a.m. in the elementary school area, followed by a ceremony at 10 a.m. in the Kent Freeman Arena. A representative from the association will be on hand to present the award to the district.

Both of these events are open to the public.

“We want as much community involvement as possible,” Swenson said.

For the remainder of the day then, students will be treated to inflatable games and more to celebrate their win.

“It’s really a testament to how well a community supports its schools,” Millerhagen said of earning the award.