Canistota Elementary School named Blue Ribbon School by DOE
School is one of three in South Dakota to be honored this year
Dedicated teachers. A supportive community. A well-executed education plan.
Those are the factors that helped the Canistota Elementary School earn a coveted spot on the list of Blue Ribbon Schools for 2020. The award, established 38 years ago, recognizes outstanding public and non-public schools throughout the country.
“We’re really excited. I’m so excited. Our staff and the whole school district work so hard that people have called us and asked us what our secret is,” Sonja Ortman, principal at Canistota Elementary School, told the Mitchell Republic.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed nearly 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools, with some schools winning multiple awards. The honored schools represent a diverse cross section of American schools, including public and charter schools, magnet and choice schools, Title I schools and non-public schools including parochial and independent schools.
The school was also recently recognized as a 2019 National ESEA Distinguished School, and Canistota School District Superintendent Larry Nebelsick said he was proud of the work everyone at the school had accomplished.
“To receive that followed up by the Blue Ribbon School Award is a very complimentary honor for our teachers, staff and school,” Nebelsick said.
The school in Canistota was recognized as an exemplary high performing school, which is defined by the United States Department of Education as a school that has its states highest high school graduation rates and achieving students ranked in the top 15% in English and mathematics, measured by state assessments.
Public schools are nominated by the chief state school officer in each state. School staff then continue the application process through a series of written essays expounding on the strengths and success of the programs at the school.
Ortman said the staff worked diligently on the application process and were thrilled to learn the school had received the award.
“Our whole staff spent months writing essays and working together to answer these questions,” Ortman said.
She said several characteristics of the district likely helped the school secure the award. A well-seasoned faculty, a supportive community and an intense district-wide desire to make sure every student receives the tools he or she needs to succeed in the classroom all made Canistota Elementary School stand out.
“We have a dedicated team, what I would call a veteran staff,” Ortman said. “We provide a lot of intervention and differentiation from the get-go. When we see (students) need a little extra, we offer that help. There is a lot of dialog on where students are and how we can push them. It’s a team approach, we don’t have any one program that is the answer, it’s more of the little things all together.”
Nebelsick also praised the experience of teachers in the district.
“Our average teacher has been here for 15 or 17 years, or something like that. Longevity has a lot to do with it. When they’re committed to stay in a school and the community, they are committed to giving them the best education,” Nebelsick said.
Ortman wrote a summary for the Canistota Elementary School profile on the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program website outlining some of the reasons the school deserved recognition, including parental support. The school is the social centerpiece and a focus of pride in the community of 650 people, she said, and those people support it both inside and outside the school.
“Our supportive parents and stakeholders are one of the reasons we have been successful,” Ortman wrote. “Facilitating an open system of communication with stakeholders helps build the relationships we have come to rely on. Parents eagerly volunteer in classrooms and at events; they support our school and stay involved in many ways. For example, our parents reinforce concepts at home that are introduced in school. Parents of students at Canistota Elementary partner with our school to make the learning experience for their child a positive and personalized one.”
Ortman said the current enrollment of the elementary school is 102 students in kindergarten through grade 5. And the staff at Canistota Elementary School will continue to do everything they can to bring the type of quality education that earns schools honors like the National Blue Ribbon School Award to the students in their classrooms.
That group, and community effort, will continue, she said.
“We have a lot of talent and I really do think the support we get from the community and parents really help us,” Ortman said.
Other South Dakota schools named as National Blue Ribbon Schools in the exemplary high performing category were Timber Lake Middle School and Webster Area Elementary School.