Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

By Bethany Wesley
Bemidji Pioneer 

'We know the direction we have to go:' Cass Lake-Bena High School goes from Priority school to Reward school in state ratings; other area schools make top lists, too


BEMIDJI -- As Cass Lake-Bena High School was named among Minnesota's highest-performing schools on Wednesday, the announcement capped off a remarkable transformation.

"I knew when I came in that this team was ready to lift off," said principal Bryan Hackbarth, who was named principal in 2013. "You're not going to find a more highly skilled, trained staff, someone who has been through the regiment that this staff has."

Four years ago, Cass Lake-Bena High School was identified as one of the state's persistently lowest-achieving schools and obtained a $1 million grant from the state to transform the school.

That grant dictated a three-year plan requiring the school to make certain changes. Hackbarth said all staff were evaluated at a minimum three times a year and were constantly observed as they taught and worked with students. Staff members met daily in professional learning communities and worked together to align the curriculum throughout the district.

"Four years ago, this staff was kind of kicked in the gut a little bit ... when someone comes in and says you're a Priority school and in the bottom 5 percent of schools in Minnesota, that will get your attention pretty quick," he said. "This staff ... they've bought into this. They understand the importance of what they're doing."

Hackbarth was "pretty emotional" when he learned Cass Lake-Bena High School was deemed a Reward School, joining 130 schools throughout Minnesota to be named among the highest-performing Title 1 schools, schools that receive federal funds for children from low-income families.

"My staff, ironically, they're pretty flatlined with it because they kind of expect it. They just know we're doing good stuff, that we're moving forward, we've got this great momentum," he said.

The Reward School designation is figured through the state's Multiple Measurement Rating system. An MMR is a score given to Title 1 schools that measures student proficiency, student growth, achievement gap reduction, and gradation rates.

Schools in the top 15 percent of MMR scores are deemed Reward Schools. Two other local schools were named Reward Schools: TrekNorth High School, which is among 20 schools statewide to be a four-time designee, and Schoolcraft Learning Community, a three-time Reward School.

This marks Cass Lake-Bena High School's first time as a Reward School.

"We're delighted," said district superintendent Rochelle Johnson. "It's a wonderful story."

Hackbarth credited his staff for the improvements, saying they embraced directives with the faith they were being adopted in the best interest of students. This year, the high school has implemented a Drop Everything and Read initiative and, while speaking with the Pioneer Wednesday afternoon, Hackbarth said you could walk through the school at that moment and not hear much of anything because staff and students were all engrossed in their 30 minutes of interrupted reading time.

"Our kids, we raise the bar for them and they just continue to grow with us and that's the greatest thing," he said.

Still, while the district is celebrating, it also has work left to do. Its younger schools -- the elementary and middle school -- were both named Priority schools, meaning they are in the lowest 5 percent for MMR scores throughout the state.

Still, Johnson said the district is headed in the right direction. With the proven success at the high school, she said those lessons already are being applied in younger grades.

"Instructional coaches are speaking with the staff as we speak," she said. "Everyone is digging into the data, looking at what areas we need to strengthen, what we are doing right. ... We know the direction we have to go. Looking at the high school, we know the tools it's going to take to get us there."

How did local schools fair?

Reward Schools

• Minnesota's highest-performing Title I schools.

• TrekNorth High School

• Schoolcraft Learning Community

• Cass Lake-Bena High School

Celebration Eligible

These schools are eligible to apply for Celebration recognition.

• JW. Smith Elementary

• Solway Elementary

• Blackduck Elementary

• Kelliher Secondary

Continuous Improvement

These schools with with their districts to create and implement improvement plans to raise student achievement and reduce achievement gaps.

• Clearbrook-Gonvick Elementary

• Laporte Elementary

Eligible for Support

These schools will receive additional assistance and resources through the Regional Centers of Excellence.

• Bagley Elementary

• Cass Lake-Bena Elementary

• Cass Lake-Bena Middle School

• Ponemah Elementary

• Red Lake 6th Grade Center

• Red Lake Elementary

• Red Lake Secondary

• Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Elementary


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