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Commissioner visits MACCRAY West to recognize Maynard school's‘ Reward’ status

MAYNARD -- Maybe it's something in the water, or maybe it's the four-day week schedule, but Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius isn't buying either of the theories. The achievements that have put the MACCRAY West Elementary Scho...

Commissioner Brenda Cassellius talks to student
Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, left, talks Friday with Brielle Niesen, a student in Terese Bourne’s first-grade class at MACCRAY West Elementary in Maynard. Cassellius visited the school to recognize its achievement of being a Reward school in four of the past five years. (Tom Cherveny | Tribune)

MAYNARD - Maybe it’s something in the water, or maybe it’s the four-day week schedule, but Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius isn’t buying either of the theories.
The achievements that have put the MACCRAY West Elementary School in Maynard in the ranks of the top 15 percent of schools in the state have everything to do with what it shares with those other schools: a strong sense of community and family, competent teachers and staff, and lots of community support and spirit, according to the commissioner.
“That is really what I’ve seen in all these schools,’’ Cassellius told the Tribune as she wound up a tour Friday of the MACCRAY West Elementary.
It was the 43rd of 44 schools she has visited to recognize them as being Reward schools four or more times since the program began five years ago. She started her day with a visit to the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City schools, which is among the group of 44.
The Reward recognition is based on a school’s performance in areas of proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates.
Cassellius stopped in classrooms during her visit to MACCRAY West, met with a group of instructors, and attended a high-energy “spirit rally” of the school’s 180 students to complete the day.
She asked students in her classroom visits what they liked most about their school, and was taken by surprise when told by some that it was the “water.’’
Students in Brenda Schwitters sixth-grade class were quick to answer “the four-day week’’ in response to the commissioner’s question. “I promise I didn’t tell them to say that,’’ said their teacher, laughing.
The commissioner was at odds with the district over its four-day week schedule last year. Conversations about the subject during her visit were cordial. She informally asked Elementary School Principal Doug Runia and others about their impressions of the four-day schedule and heard favorable comments in response.
Her conversation with instructors focused on the more rigorous academic standards being implemented in schools, and the challenges education faces.
Teachers told her they initially had their apprehensions about the more rigorous standards, but said students are getting there. “They have risen to the challenge obviously or we wouldn’t be sitting here,’’ Schwitters said.
Cassellius told the instructors that one of the biggest challenges statewide right now is finding the teachers needed. It’s especially a problem in many rural school districts, she told them. “It’s very challenging to get teachers. That is a very complex issue,’’ she said of the shortage.
She also told the instructors that she does not expect any big advances for education to emerge from the current legislative session. She said Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators are interested in protecting the state’s finances despite the projected budget surplus.

Cassellius visits classroom
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, right, visits Shelly Gaffany’s second-grade classroom Friday at MACCRAY West in Maynard. (Tom Cherveny | Tribune)

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