BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — North Dakota State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler has announced that three North Dakota Schools have received the U.S Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Award — a designation which highlights schools with the highest and most improved levels of academic achievements in the country.

The Blue Ribbon program was established in 1982, and the first group of Blue Ribbon schools was named in 1983. To be eligible for the award, schools must provide the Department with information pertaining to their teaching strategies, education curriculum, test results, school culture, and overall academic performance. This year, the Education Department recognized 353 Blue Ribbon schools nationwide — including multiple here in North Dakota.

“Blue Ribbon schools are recognized as among our country’s best,” stated Baesler in a press release. “It takes a great deal of work, effort, collaboration, and excellence to become a national Blue Ribbon school, and all North Dakotans should celebrate this achievement.”

The three ND schools that received Blue Ribbon awards this year are Taylor-Richardson Elementary, Rugby High School, and William S. Gussner Elementary.

Rugby High School, which serves 307 students in grades 7-12 and is located approximately 65 miles east of Minot, was given notice for its focus on creating and collaborating in professional learning communities. The school’s principal, Jared Blikre, states that he was “elated” to learn that the high school was deemed worthy of a Blue Ribbon award.

“This is a great honor for our school district and our community,” he stated in a press release. “It reflects the fact that our staff has a commitment to excellence. Our focus is, ‘Every child, every day.’ We stress rigor, relevancy, grit, perseverance and relationships — things that will ultimately lead our students to become successful adults. That is where we start everything, all of our groundwork, and we’ve been doing it for about 10 years. “The credit for this goes to everybody in our district — it certainly takes a village, and we have that mindset. This award is a symbol of achievement and a source of pride.”

Taylor-Richardson Elementary, located 20 miles east of Dickinson, also received an award. The school was praised for its’ ability to emphasize student engagement, and how well it restructured its lesson plans to meet student needs. The schools’ 5-12th grade principal, Dr. Misti Vogle, notes that Taylor-Richardson Elementary has several teacher leadership teams, who frequently meet to discuss how to reflect on, grow, progress, and improve on their instruction.

“It’s quite an honor,” she states in the release. “Our teachers, and our staff, and our administration have worked really hard to continue to improve our learning. This is coming
from the teacher grass roots, the people who are just dedicated to education.”

Gussner Elementary in Jamestown holds the rare honor of being one of only six schools in North Dakota that have obtained more than one Blue Ribbon Award, first receiving the prize in 2013. The school’s principal, Luke Anderson, states that the achievement will be honored with a student assembly, as well as a larger community celebration at a later date. Anderson also notes that the work that the school’s teachers put into applying for the award helped them realize just how impressive and important their work was.

“We are fortunate in that we have all of our stakeholders working in the same direction,” Anderson said in the release. “That is what you need to be successful at any level. We can’t do our job well unless we have great kids, outstanding teachers, and caring families, who support us along the way. Our staff, from teachers to support staff, are there for each and every student, and we have tremendous district support and expectations to succeed at a high level. This has allowed us, as a staff, to have some conversations and celebrate through the process. It really revealed how fortunate we are.”

“Leaders, educators, and staff at our national Blue Ribbon schools continually inspire me with their dedication to fostering academic excellence,” stated U.S Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in the release, “and building positive school cultures that support students of all backgrounds to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. We take tremendous pride in the achievements of these schools and their commitment to empowering educators, serving students, and engaging families.”

Since the beginning of the Blue Ribbon program, 49 North Dakota schools have won a total of 55 awards. For more information on the Blue Ribbon program, visit this page on the Department of Education’s website.