Prairie Elementary named one of nation’s best schools

One of Idaho’s highest performing elementary schools has been recognized as a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

Prairie Elementary
All photos courtesy of Prairie Elementary and Superintendent/Principal René Forsmann.

Last month, U.S. Department of Education officials named Cottonwood School District’s Prairie Elementary one of its exemplary high performing schools under the National Blue Ribbon Schools program.

Prairie Elementary was the only Idaho school to receive the national recognition, joining schools from 46 other states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All told, 290 public schools across the country were honored.

“The community stands behind us, we have an amazing staff and kids want to come to school,” Superintendent/Principal René Forsmann said. “Parents come in and volunteer, and we have a really supportive, cohesive community, which says a lot about why we do have the success we have.”

Prairie’s students and staff were honored because of the school’s high academic achievement marks. During the 2012-13 school year, 95 percent of Prairie’s students were proficient or advanced in their reading scores on the ISAT, while 93 percent of students were proficient or advanced in math.

The school was also named a four-star school under the state’s most recent Star Rating System.

Prairie Elementary ceremony
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna honors Prairie Elementary for its national Blue Ribbon award.

“I’m proud of all the teachers, administrators, parents, and students who work so hard to make Prairie Elementary a great place to learn,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said in a statement announcing the award. “Everyone there is leading by example and helping to set the standard of education in the Gem State.”

For being selected, Prairie received a $20,000 award from the state and $5,000 for representatives to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in last week’s national awards ceremony.

During ceremonies they were able to network with leaders of other high-performing schools across the country, trade curriculum and program ideas and share what works for Prairie.

They also listened to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“(These are) schools that are leading their students to the highest levels of achievement or making outstanding progress in closing those achievement gaps,” Duncan said in announcing the awards.

Prairie Elementary DC
Fifth/sixth grade teacher Sherry Holthaus and Superintendent/Principal René Forsmann at the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Prairie is a public school, with about 40-50 percent of its 210 students eligible for the Free or Reduced Lunch program. Forsmann said the community rallies around the motto “Kids are worth whatever it takes” by regularly supporting the district by approving supplemental levies and volunteering.

Inside Prairie, technology has become a tool teachers embrace. The school enjoys a nearly one-to-one ratio of devices, between iPads, Chromebooks and its computer lab. Most classrooms are equipped with projectors or smartboards.

“Devices are like pencil and paper to us anymore,” Forsmann said. “It’s smooth and seamless in how it gets used in the classroom.”

The Cottonwood School District also embraces early childhood education. A privately run and funded preschool program is housed within Prairie, and full-day kindergarten is offered every other day.

Attendance also averages about 93-95 percent a year.

The community plans to commemorate its Blue Ribbon honor by building a sign near the entrance of town.

Prairie Elementary Staff
Prairie Elementary’s staff is a big part of the reason the school received its Blue Ribbon honor.

The only question that remains is what to do with the $20,000 award?

Although a final decision has yet to be made, Forsmann likes directing a portion of the money to advanced teacher professional development training.

The rest may be up to the students.

“The kids are fun to ask what we should we do with it,” Forsmann said. “I know some of them would like a little more playground equipment.”

Further reading: Use Idaho ED Trends to explore data on public schools across Idaho.

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