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6 Brainerd elementaries nominated for Blue Ribbon status

All six Brainerd elementary schools have been nominated for the national “highest honor” of Blue Ribbon School.

The state of Minnesota had a total of eight nominations, six of which are in the Brainerd School District.

“It’s unprecedented, the amount of nominations in one school district,” said Superintendent Steve Razidlo.

He added of the Blue Ribbon status, “It’s the highest honor you can get. The highest you can achieve.”

Each school — Harrison, Riverside, Lowell, Garfield, Nisswa, Baxter — must now complete an application form detailing achievements by March 21. Winners will be honored in November at an award ceremony in Washington D.C.

According to the organization, National Blue Ribbon Schools are public and private elementary, middle and high schools “that are producing outstanding results for all students. They have demonstrated consistent excellence and made progress in closing gaps in student achievement.”

The recognition program is part of a larger U.S. Department of Education effort “to identify and disseminate knowledge about effective school leadership and promising instructional practices.”

Since its inception in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has recognized more than 7,000 schools.

Each Brainerd school was nominated as either an exemplary high performing school or an exemplary achievement gap closing school.

Razidlo learned of the nominations late Friday. Since then, the spirit at each building has been elevated.

Staff at Harrison are still glowing, said Principal Lisa Morgan.

“It recognizes the incredible work people are doing to grow children’s learning,” she said. “It shows great things can happen when you roll up your sleeves and get everyone diving in with the same focus.”

Garfield Principal Jon Clark added that having all elementary schools nominated shows the district is on the right path.

“We’re doing great things in Brainerd,” he said. “It gives (staff) credit for the hard work they’ve been putting in.”

At Riverside Elementary, Principal Jodi Kennedy said recognition is vital for all levels of staff.

“It shows the hard work we do is making a difference for kids,” she said.

Kennedy added of the six nominations, “It’s a pretty honking huge thing. It’s unbelievable.”

Those nominations are thanks to strong curriculum and extensive trainings, said Lowell Principal Todd Sauer.

Baxter Principal Steve Lundberg agreed, adding that, “It starts with the parents and goes all the way to teachers, educational assistants, secretary, custodian and principal. It’s a nice team effort to get kids to succeed.”

It’s not assured that each nominated school will be awarded the coveted Blue Ribbon School title, but “a great majority of schools nominated eventually earn the award,” Razidlo said.

The Brainerd School District has received three Blue Ribbon School awards in the last 25 years — one at Lowell, Riverside and Whittier.

Razidlo said having six nominations in one year “says a great deal about the performance as a whole of our system.”

“It speaks to the quality of decisions made regarding our resources, programs, persistence, commitment,” he said. “There have been many opportunities to make decisions over last 10 years by leaders, past and present, and by practitioners, past and present, which made these current awards possible.”

Those past and present school leaders focused on ideas like all-day, every-day kindergarten in 2008. They put an increased importance on literacy, professional development, on-going coaching, studying student data and making structural decisions and resource allocations, he said.

“We are a marker of a Minnesota system moving forward and not solely a singular school community hitting markers of excellence,” Razidlo said.

JESSICA LARSEN, staff writer, may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at