Delano Elementary named a Minnesota School of Excellence

September 8, 2008

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Delano Elementary School is one of eight schools named a Minnesota School of Excellence by the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association (MESPA).

“We’re really pleased,” said Delano Elementary Principal Darren Schuler. “It was a year-long process that we took on to complete the endeavour. There was a committee that was formed way back last September that began the process.”

Staff members from the elementary school who served on the committee included Kathy Workman, Faith Wokasch, Alexis Frischmon, Teresa Langton, Leah Sinkel, Gwen Briesemeister, Peggy Bobick, Brianna Buck, Sarah Bersie, and parent representative Rene Moen.

Schuler also was quick to give credit to former principal Ted May for assistance with the application work.

MESPA developed this research-based program aligned with national standards in leadership, vision, student learning, the culture of adult learning, data and decision-making, and community engagement.

Schuler explained a survey was conducted by certified and non-certified staff at the elementary school, looking at those six areas.

“It really is a school improvement process that forces you to look at your building as a whole, and how you score in these areas,” Schuler said. “We saw some areas we need to improve on, and saw some we did quite well on.”

MESPA endorses schools whose principal, staff, students, and community – working as a team –demonstrate the desire to strengthen education by successfully undertaking the Minnesota School of Excellence program.

This school improvement process, recognized by the Minnesota Department of Education and National Association of Elementary School Principals, involves a systematic self-study, development of a school improvement plan, and implementation of the plan based on demonstrated results.

“In this time of high stakes testing, the quality of our school communities can far too easily be misrepresented by the single-purposed federal testing requirement,” said P. Fred Storti, MESPA executive director. “High stakes tests, such as the MCA II tests used to evaluate Minnesota schools for adequate yearly progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, offer a snapshot in time with no context. One high stakes test should not determine a school’s public stature and cannot adequately assess its educational effectiveness.

“Elementary and middle level schools provide the foundation for children’s lifelong learning, and the Minnesota School of Excellence program clearly connects the education process to student learning,” Storti continued.

“The Minnesota School of Excellence Program takes schools on a meaningful analytical endeavor, engaging staff and community in purposeful conversations about their school,” said Matt Dorschner, Minnesota School of Excellence Program chair. “It is the premier way to identify current strengths and areas needing improvement for a school. The reward of the analysis is two-fold. First, it takes measure of where a school is and reveals where it needs to go. Second, it creates a wonderful opportunity for communities to celebrate their school—and to connect to their role in the school’s accomplishments.”

Delano Elementary School is a preK-4 school that serves approximately 770 students. Two years ago, Delano Elemenatary was named a Senator’s School of Excellence by former Sen. Mark Dayton. This is the first time Delano Elementary has gone through the application process for the Minnesota School of Excellence. Schuler also said a community-wide celebration event is being planned for mid-April 2009.

From the Children Are Learners murals in the centrally located media center space, to the organization of grade level commons and classroom areas, the school’s bright and modern facility provides a positive, caring, and exciting environment where learners flourish.

Delano Elementary takes its mission – to educate individuals into lifelong learners possessing the skills, knowledge, creativity, self-worth, and citizenship necessary to succeed in a rapidly changing society – very seriously.

“Our district’s vision states that ‘Educational Excellence is our Foremost Goal.’ This statement resonates with our staff, parents and community who work together to promote continued academic excellence. Delano Elementary’s tradition of academic success is truly a team approach,” Schuler said. “We have a supportive school community and a dedicated teaching staff that take pride in providing the best possible educational experience for its children.”

Delano Elementary’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores, that consistently rank among the highest in the state, reflect the outstanding academics achieved by students and staff.

The skilled staff is committed to delivering a high quality educational program in a well-organized and disciplined climate.

That educational program offers a coordinated curriculum including math, reading, written language, spelling, social studies, and science. Beyond these basics, students also receive instruction from specialists in physical education, music, media skills, and in technology.

The curriculum and special programs at Delano Elementary reflect a commitment to providing educational experiences that prepare learners for the world beyond school doors.

Emphases on advancing education through technology and providing educational opportunities to expand global awareness are two initiatives that demonstrate those values.

Over a five-year span, the elementary school is in the process of installing SMART Boards and sound-field systems. With a teacher-in-residence from China, Delano Elementary has incorporated Mandarin Chinese language instruction and cultural exposure opportunities to students in every grade level through short specialist units.

Some examples of innovative and collaborative practices geared toward student achievement are: the Fathers Read Every Day (FRED) program, a Title I initiative implemented to promote a culture of readers; a subscription to the Reading A-Z online program to provide leveled readers to students at a variety of reading competencies; the Adventure Club after school and summer school targeted services programs; visiting author/illustrator lyceums each February; and a school-wide residency cycle that brings programs and resources into the building and encompasses every area of the curriculum.

The Talent Development program at Delano Elementary serves gifted and talented students in grades k-4.

Students are provided opportunities through school-wide enrichments and pullout units, with participation maintained through teacher recommendation and parent referral and formal identification completed in fourth grade.

Several programs are available to challenge high potential students across a variety of content areas, such as math, reading, writing, reasoning, and creative expression.

Delano Elementary fosters a strong relationship with its parent and community members.

The staff, students, and parents work together to create partnerships essential for learning, resulting (among other benefits) in better attendance, improved behavior, increased educational outcomes, and a safer learning environment.

Many of the elementary teachers take advantage of a program called “Lunch with Seniors.”

This community-outreach program schedules one classroom per month to visit the community senior center at lunch and socialize with the senior citizens of the community.

The luncheon usually ends by students reading to the seniors, performing a reader’s theater skit, or performing a short music concert. In addition, monthly trips are taken to the local long-term care facility, where the students and residents engage in reading, crafts, games, singing, and interviews.

Vital to the school’s mission is a parental support program provided through the local parent-teacher organization, as well as a large cadre of parent and community volunteers.

The Tiger’s Tale Publishing Center, staffed and maintained by community volunteers, allows students to turn their own creative stories into books that have a professionally-published look.

The math lab extends and enriches skills taught through classroom instruction.

Volunteers contribute in a variety of essential opportunities, from administering differentiated spelling tests, providing supplemental learning supervising the math lab, performing for students in various readers’ theater and guest reader programs, as well as helping teachers with photocopying, hanging up student artwork, and other classroom-based jobs.

Delano Elementary School averages over 6,000 hours of volunteer time per year.

In addition to Delano Elementary School, eight other elementary schools achieved recognition as 2008-09 Minnesota Schools of Excellence: L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion School, St. Paul; Hubert Olson Elementary School, Bloomington; Indian Mounds Elementary School, Bloomington; Lake Park Audubon Elementary School, Audubon; Pinewood Elementary School, Mounds View; Sheridan Hills Elementary School, Richfield; Valley View Elementary School, Bloomington; Washburn Elementary School, Bloomington. There are 865 elementary schools in the State of Minnesota.

The Minnesota School of Excellence program was established in 1986. The program offers a powerful comprehensive school improvement process that results in student learning growth.

The program combines the findings of current research on effective schooling with the practical on-site experience of working principals and education staff. Since the program’s inception in 1986, 135 schools have earned Minnesota School of Excellence validation.

MESPA is the professional association of Minnesota’s elementary and middle level principals. With the vision to “be the premiere resource for preparing today’s principals for tomorrow and a strong leading voice for public education” and a statewide membership over 950 principals, MESPA has represented Minnesota’s principals since 1950.

MESPA is affiliated with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and its 29,500 members nationwide.

Do you know more about this subject, or have a comment? E-mail: news@heraldjournal.com