BISMARCK, N.D., Sept. 19, 2023 – North Dakota State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler on Tuesday praised three North Dakota schools for earning the designation of Blue Ribbon School, an honor conferred by the U.S. Department of Education.
The schools are Taylor-Richardton Elementary, in Taylor, about 20 miles east of Dickinson; Rugby High School, about 65 miles east of Minot; and William S. Gussner Elementary in Jamestown. It is Gussner’s second Blue Ribbon honor in a decade.
“Blue Ribbon schools are recognized as among our country’s best,” Baesler said. “It takes a great deal of work, effort, collaboration and excellence to become a national Blue Ribbon school, and all North Dakotans should celebrate this achievement.”
Jared Blikre, principal of Rugby High School, said he was “elated” by the Blue Ribbon designation.
“This is a great honor for our school district and our community,” he said. “It reflects the fact that our staff has a commitment to excellence. Our focus is, ‘Every child, every day.’ We stress rigor, relevancy, grit, perseverance and relationships -- things that will ultimately lead our students to become successful adults."
Rugby High School has 307 students in grades seven through 12. The school’s teachers work in professional learning communities and emphasize collaboration to improve school instruction, Blikre said. “That is where we start everything, all of our groundwork, and we’ve been doing it for about 10 years,” he said.
“The credit for this goes to everybody in our district,” Blikre said. “It certainly takes a village, and we have that mindset. This award is a symbol of achievement and a source of pride for our district and community.”
Taylor-Richardton Elementary has 141 students in grades prekindergarten through 4. Dr. Misti Vogle, the school district’s principal for grades 5-12, called the Blue Ribbon designation “quite an honor. Our teachers, and our staff, and our administration have worked really hard to continue to improve our learning.”
Taylor-Richardton Elementary emphasizes student engagement and tailoring instruction to meet students’ needs through standards-based grading and progress monitoring, Vogle said. The school district has several teacher leadership teams that meet regularly to discuss how to improve instruction and “reflect on what we need to grow and progress,” Vogle said. “This is coming from the teacher grass roots, the people who are dedicated to education.”
Gussner Elementary, which first won the award in 2013, is one of six North Dakota schools that have been honored twice. The others are Divide County High in Crosby (1984 and 2006); Belmont/Phoenix Elementary in Grand Forks (1992 and 2005); Harwood Elementary in Harwood, in Cass County (2006 and 2019); Wyndmere Public School in Richland County, in North Dakota’s southeast corner (2013 and 2021); and Sweetwater Elementary in Devils Lake (2014 and 2020).
“We are fortunate in that we have all of our stakeholders working in the same direction,” Gussner Principal Luke Anderson said. “That is what you need to be successful at any level. We can’t do our job well unless we have great kids, outstanding teachers, and caring families, who support us along the way. Our staff, from teachers to support staff, are there for each and every student, and we have tremendous district support and expectations to succeed at a high level.”
Gussner has 225 students in grades prekindergarten through five. Anderson said Gussner will hold a student assembly to mark the achievement, and a community celebration at a later date. He said the work that went into applying for Blue Ribbon consideration helped Gussner’s educators “to realize the great things that are going on.”
“This has allowed us, as a staff, to have some conversations and celebrate through the process,” Anderson said. “It really revealed how fortunate we are.”
The Education Department named the first group of Blue Ribbon schools in 1983, a year after the program was established. It recognizes public and private schools in which students have exceptional levels of academic achievement or record substantial improvements in their students’ learning. Taylor-Richardton Elementary, Rugby High and Gussner Elementary were all honored as “exemplary high-performing schools.”
Nationally, the Education Department recognized 353 Blue Ribbon schools on Tuesday. Forty-nine North Dakota schools have received 55 Blue Ribbon awards since the program began. To be eligible, schools must provide information about their academic performance, teaching strategies, curriculum, school culture, and test results.
Miguel Cardona, the U.S. education secretary, said Tuesday that the “leaders, educators, and staff at our national Blue Ribbon schools continually inspire me with their dedication to fostering academic excellence and building positive school cultures that support students of all backgrounds to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.”
“We take tremendous pride in the achievements of these schools and their commitment to empowering educators, serving students, and engaging families,” Cardona said.