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Time to celebrate at the Minnehaha

After reducing its achievement gap to zero, Minnehaha Elementary in Two Harbors was recognized by the state department of education as a Celebration School earlier this month.

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They were one of 48 schools chosen for the final honor, chosen from a pool of 166. Eligible schools are identified using the state’s Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR), which is based on students’ proficiency and growth and a school’s progress towards reducing achievement gaps and increasing graduation rates.

“The number one thing is the quality of the teaching staff at the Minnehaha,” principal Pat Driscoll said, attributing the school’s improvements to the staff’s hard work.

Three years ago, there was a nine percent achievement gap at the school. Students who received free- and reduced-price lunches were performing nine percent below their peers on standardized tests. This year, that achievement gap no longer exists.

“Our teachers have worked hard, working with our students that needed to develop. We still have room to grow and we continue to work on that in all of our students,” Superintendent Bill Crandall said.

Driscoll cites many initiatives that have helped to ensure the success of all students. In 2006, the district added free all-day, every-day kindergarten, which starts all kids on an early path to success. Teachers also began meeting twice a month to review data and share ideas for improving instruction.

Kids in grades 3-5 take the state-mandated MCA tests every year, but Minnehaha students also take the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) test, an optional tool that the school decided to use. Students take the test at the beginning and end of each year to track progress. It also provides data that helps teachers identify students in need of individualized instruction.

“We have all these tools we can use,” fourth-grade teacher Ann Hastings said.

Based on those NWEA scores, some kids participate in an accelerated reading program, but if the student is struggling with reading, he or she will start with less-advanced reading material. After completing a book, students take a quiz is administered to the student. Three quiz scores of 80 percent or greater indicate mastery of a level and the student advances to the next. More advanced students are assigned books above grade level, so they still feel challenged.

“It really motivates them to read,” said Deb Alseth, a second-grade teacher.

Another way students receive personalized instruction is through Compass Odyssey, a computer program that creates lessons for students at their current level. Most classes at the Minnehaha spend time during the day at the computer lab, where the students work on their individualized curriculum.

Adding customized work to the overall curriculum has helped challenge more advanced students and give struggling students a chance to succeed and improve.

Overall, the school still has some work to do – on the 2013 MCAs, 69.5 percent of students were proficient in reading and 65.5 percent were proficient in math. These statistics place the school in seventh place for reading and 17th for math among 38 regional schools.

Hastings said it’s heartening to be acknowledged for the hours teachers and administrators have invested –in and out of the classroom — to develop strategies for student success and give their students the best education possible.

“It’s nice to be recognized for working hard,” Hastings said.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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