National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2021 include two in Montana

Cascade School
Posted at 6:28 PM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 20:28:29-04

GREAT FALLS — U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Tuesday recognized 325 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools - including two in Montana. The Montana schools are Cascade Elementary School in Cascade, and Ridge View Elementary School in Belgrade.

Cascade earns National Blue Ribbon School award

The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

Cascade principal Michelle Price said, "It's a great reinforcement for our teachers, they deserve to know how great of a job they are doing here.”

In a town of barely 700, having a school system so strong is an incredible asset.

“The best thing about our school is, I know the kids' names, and so do other teachers,” said Price. “Because we are so small we’re able to build our relationships with our kids where we make them not self-conscious as much and they start to believe in themselves, and that is one of the most important factors, as once the kids start to believe that they can do it they start achieving all kinds of things.”

Long-time kindergarten teacher Sharon Stevens says that the more you can build up students' confidence, the better results you are going to see.

“My kids know they are geniuses, they call themselves geniuses, when you hear them talking to each other they will say, 'Hey, that was a genius move,'" she said. “For me its all about setting your expectations high and letting the kids achieve them, and most of the time they want to reach them themselves.”

Cascade was ranked third in the state in the 2018-2019 school year for their SBAC scores. The nomination for Cascade Elementary School says:

Offering students the ability to develop the self confidence and skills needed to achieve their highest potential is the goal of each teacher and staff member at Cascade Elementary. Located in a small, agricultural community at the base of Montana's Big Belt Mountains, the 140 students in Early Kindergarten through Sixth Grade are provided academic interventions in small group settings so each child can actively participate in his or her learning. Regular data meetings are held to keep the small groups focused and designed to meet each child's changing needs.

The PAWS expectations (Positive attitude, Act responsibly, Work ethic, Show respect) are woven throughout the school day as each teacher, staff member, and student model the positive behaviors. The expectations have impacted the school by creating an environment of learning, inclusion, and pride in the school. When walking down the hallways, one is met by smiling faces, warm greetings, and positive encouragement. The energy brought on by this attitude provides students and staff the security needed to take chances, make mistakes, and learn from them.

The nomination for Ridge View Elementary School says:

We are the Ridge View Cubs! We are a small, rural school with a big heart and value the success of all students. The foundation of our success begins with building strong relationships with students, families, and colleagues. We pride ourselves on a compassionate and honest approach to instruction as well as a collaborative commitment to quality instructional practices. Standards Based Instruction is our core practice, with opportunities for differentiation to meet individual student needs. Social Emotional Learning is integrated into the classrooms through counseling lessons, mindful practices, and multi-tiered systems of support. When students feel supported and safe, they are engaged in the learning process. Ridge View Cubs ROAR! Each student and staff member focus on being Respectful, Organized, Always Learning, and Responsible. It is our hope that these skills reach beyond the walls of Ridge View.

We have learned to utilize our valued community resources to continue to provide quality educational experiences to our students. Parental involvement, business partnerships, and community based opportunities are paramount in introducing STEM, history, and real life application of core curriculum such as literacy and mathematics. Providing the best instructional practices to students requires our staff to maintain their professional development. We are committed to this endeavor by offering many opportunities to expand instructional knowledge. "Teacher Learner Week" allows staff members to provide professional development to other staff within our district. Ridge View is a Professional Learning Community, utilizing our embedded expertise to propel us all into the future.

A news release from Cardona says the National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of educators, families, and communities in "creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content."

The Department recognizes all schools in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates:

  • Exemplary High-Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
  • Exemplary Achievement Gap-Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students.

The program has bestowed approximately 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools.

Other Montana schools named as Blue Ribbon Schools in recent years:

  • 2013: Manhattan Elementary School, Manhattan
  • 2014: Longfellow Elementary School, Bozeman
  • 2014: Anaconda High School, Anaconda
  • 2015: Margaret Leary School, Butte
  • 2015: Eureka Middle School, Eureka
  • 2015: Hellgate Elementary Intermediate School, Missoula
  • 2018: Heck/Quaw Elementary School, Belgrade
  • 2019: Fairfield Elementary School Fairfield
  • 2019: Fort Benton Elementary School, Fort Benton
  • 2019: Hawthorne Elementary School, Missoula
  • 2020: Russell Elementary School, Kalispell
  • 2020: Clancy K-8 Elementary School, Clancy

Up to 420 schools may be nominated each year. The Department invites National Blue Ribbon Schools nominations from the top education official in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Bureau of Indian Education. Private schools are nominated by the Council for American Private Education.