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Ben Rodgers, Forum Communications Co., Published November 22 2010

Barnes County North school honored in Washington

ROGERS, N.D. – There’s a charge in the air at the North Central campus of Barnes County North here as students and staff prepare to celebrate the joining of a program, and it’s been years in the making.

On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., the campus was honored as a Blue Ribbon School, the only one in North Dakota this year and one of only six K-12 schools in the nation to join the program. Across the U.S. only 314 schools out of more than 132,000 joined.

“It’s a process that started a number of years ago, and it’s a commitment made by everybody,” said Doug Jacobson, Barnes County North superintendent.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction nominated the school after it was the only school in the state to have increasing test scores in math and science for the past three years, said Kenneth Steiner, administrative staff officer III with the department.

Then came a 28-page application and confirmation of meeting adequate yearly progress scores, another requirement for the program.

Steiner said it was the only school out of 450 or so in North Dakota to meet the requirements.

“We have teachers that have taught kids how to take ownership of their education,” said Daren Christianson, North Central campus principal.

Schools honored meet one of two criteria: high performing or improving. The 149-student school was judged as an improving school or a school with more than 40 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The North Central campus has more than 45 percent.

Being accepted into the Blue Ribbon Schools program is due in part to many little steps that come together, from the staff to the students, Christianson said.

One he said is a teachers’ stipend for going above and beyond in their own professional development. A low turnover rate helps this work, he said.

Math is another area. At the school, math is taught using the Saxon concept, where all answers must be 100 percent correct, and if not, they are corrected until they are.

The Saxon concept also reverts to previously learned knowledge while infusing new ideas and concepts.

Barnes County North also has a Lab Learning program where elementary students get to partake in science labs every week or half week. Christianson said the students get a pre-test learning about the unit and then in the lab use group work to complete projects and experiments.

“We were one of the first schools in the state of North Dakota to do it,” he said.

There is also a strong emphasis in reading at the central campus with the Accelerated Reader program where point values are assigned to books and students are tested on books in their range and eventually move on to more difficult reading.

“Our kids just really excel,” said Beth Undem, school librarian and English teacher. “We had a third-grader last year read 1 million words

When students reach the milestone, their name goes on the wall called the Millionaires Club.

Jacobson said it took about seven years for the North Central campus to get programs up to a Blue Ribbon Schools program level. Wimbledon-Courtenay is at year four, and Spiritwood is at year three.

“We’re not foolish enough to think we have all the answers, but we worked hard to get where we are,” Christianson said.

But it’s an effort that goes from students and staff to janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, he said.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my teachers, my kids and the rest of my support staff,” Christianson said.

An open house is planned on from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the school on Nov. 29 where the award will be unveiled.

Ben Rodgers is a writer for The Jamestown (N.D.) Sun