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Dignitaries gather to honor GBR Elementary's national award

Melody Schopp, South Dakota secretary of education, has the students of Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary stand up and stretch before she speaks Tuesday afternoon during an assembly recognizing the Mitchell school for being a National Blue Ribbon Award honoree. (Sean Ryan/Republic) 1 / 2
Dusty Johnson, center, of Mitchell and chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, cheers on students to yell and clap louder Tuesday at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary. Seated next to Johnson are Jeff Smith, president of the Mitchell City Council, and Schopp. (Sean Ryan/Republic) 2 / 2

Hard work. That’s what Dusty Johnson said it takes to become a National Blue Ribbon School. Johnson, of Mitchell and chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, was one of several dignitaries who attended an assembly Tuesday to honor Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary in Mitchell for earning the distinction. Johnson and wife Jacquelyn have two children attending GBR. “We are very proud to be part of the GBR family,” he said. Johnson said Gov. Daugaard is a big fan of GBR, but was busy at Ellsworth Air Force base arranging help for West River residents impacted by last weekend’s blizzard.

Johnson advised students to keep up their efforts because “it takes hard work to have a blue ribbon life.” He then led students in a cheer for their teachers “to show everyone how much you appreciate this blue ribbon opportunity.”

Others in attendance included South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp, Mitchell City Council President Jeff Smith and Mitchell Superintendent of Schools Joe Graves. They all congratulated GBR Principal Vicki Harmdierks, the school’s teachers and other employees, and the 436 students on being named one of only four 2013 South Dakota Blue Ribbon Schools.

Harmdierks said she was notified Sept. 24 by the office of national Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that the school won the blue ribbon honor. It was the culmination of a nearly year-long application process.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and non-public elementary, middle and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where students are making significant gains in academic achievement.

Harmdierks credited her teachers, parental involvement, school programs and high test scores as a few of the reasons for the award.

Nationally, only 286 of the nation’s 160,000 schools earned Blue Ribbon honors in 2013.

“That gives some indication of just how special this award is,” she said.

South Dakota’s other 2013 Blue Ribbon schools are Faulkton Elementary School, Faulkton; Harvey Dunn Elementary School, Sioux Falls; and St. Joseph School, of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Parish, in Pierre.

Secretary Schopp, a 23-year teaching veteran, had students stand up and join her in a stretch. Afterward she said, “This award tells me that you are not only smart, but you worked really hard at your job.”

In pre-ceremony comments, Schopp said GBR’s was the first Blue Ribbon award ceremony she has attended.

“This is exciting because it shows that we are really doing what we should be doing. This award exemplifies what kids and teachers are really capable of doing in our state. I’m really excited to recognize they’re working hard.”

Student Council President Madison Krall found herself among the dignitaries. She presented Harmdierks with a plaque on behalf of the school’s students that read “Vicki Harmdierks, proud principal of Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School.” The plaque echoes the “Proud Principal” awards she gives to students daily, noted Harmdierks, who said she was touched by the gesture.

Superintendent Graves told the students that on his visits to other district schools he was told to relay one message to GBR students: “Good job.”