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G.B. Rogers principal wins national award

First a blue ribbon for the school, now a national award for the principal.

Vicki Harmdierks, principal of Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School in Mitchell, learned Thursday she will be presented with the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

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Vicki Harmdierks  Harmdierks, a Wessington Springs resident, is one of seven principals nationwide to receive the award. She is in her seventh year with the Mitchell School District.

“I am just truly honored to win this award,” Harmdierks said. “I just feel blessed to work with an amazing group of educators at Gertie Belle and the Mitchell School District. This award would not be possible without the dedicated group of staff that I am lucky enough to surround myself with.”

The presentation will take place at the National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony. It will be given by the U.S. Department of Education, together with the National Association of Elementary Schools Principals, the Association of Middle-Level Education and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in memory of former Secretary of Education Terrell H. Bell.

Harmdierks was nominated recently when Gertie Belle Rogers was designated with a Blue Ribbon Award, one of only 286 schools nationwide to receive the honor this year. The school’s award was announced in September.

Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves issued a nomination letter for Harmdierks.

“This is very exciting,” Graves said Thursday. “It’s definitely an outstanding recognition for Vicki and makes the entire Mitchell School District very proud.”

The Terrel H. Bell Award recognizes outstanding school leaders and the role they play in guiding students and schools to excellence, frequently under challenging circumstances. Principals nominated for the award are school leaders committed to fostering successful teaching and learning at their schools and who do whatever it takes to help their students meet high standards, according to a release by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Harmdierks said she and her staff do frequent data-based assessments to monitor how their children are doing, and adjust accordingly, and she shared credit with Graves for the award.

“He works closely with me to set goals for Gertie Belle and to monitor those goals,” she said. “I just appreciate his continued support.”

According to information supplied by the award organization, Harmdierks coached for more than 20 years and runs her school like a team:

“She believes her job is to provide the vision and the goals, and to nurture the players on the team to meet the challenges of obtaining and sustaining high student achievement. Harmdierks works to develop strong, positive relationships with every staff member, focusing on how their strengths can help support student achievement.

“Harmdierks leads by example for her staff and her students. She is always researching, looking at and sharing data to drive decisions that reflect the school’s vision and goals. She purchases books for her staff for book studies on current issues and encourages teachers to attend workshops or take advantage of in-house professional development.

“Each fall, Harmdierks brings together a team of teachers to a data retreat where she helps them understand the information collected about their school, classrooms, and individual students, so they can diagnose and develop treatment. By developing in her teachers the ability to fully understand what is transpiring in their school, she creates teacher leaders who take ownership for the entire school and who may develop new solutions to improve it.

“Under Harmdierks’s leadership, Gertie Belle Rogers implemented the Before/After School Empowerment (BASE) program to assist students who had not yet reached proficiency. Before school, teachers work with students on math and reading; after school time is set aside for homework assistance. At the end of the last school year, the total time students accumulated added up to 173 days of school. Teachers who run BASE have the opportunity to earn one to three graduate credits toward renewing their teacher’s certificate.

“Harmdierks also works with the community to recruit volunteers who contribute to the school’s success. Members of the local retired volunteer organization assist with students and classroom teachers, supporting individual students, small groups, and supervising the computer lab. Through the Experience Works program, Harmdierks secured community volunteers to maintain the library during the school year and during the summer to support the Summer Reading program.

“Gertie Belle Rogers has been recognized by the South Dakota Department of Education as a Distinguished/Exemplary School for eight consecutive years. It is a testament to Harmdierks’ leadership that everyone in this rural community simply expects the school to achieve at high levels despite changing demographics that have led to an increased free/reduced price lunch population and higher levels of transience.”