Nicholas Banovetz is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Churchill Elementary SchoolToday we wrapped up the first stop of Road to Success, and we couldn't have picked a better community to kick-off the listening tour. Cloquet was welcoming, energetic–and certainly gave us something to write home about. Daniel and I are still processing the incredible lessons learned and conversations from the day, but wanted to share some initial thoughts from our time at Churchill Elementary School.

(By way of background, Cloquet, the gateway to the Arrowhead, has a handful of high-performing public schools. That piqued our interest and led to one of the city's two elementary schools landing a spot on our statewide tour.)

We spent a few hours meeting with the school principal, Dave Wangen, several teachers and specialists, and a parent who sits on the school's Native American parent committee. And while we try not to play favorites, Daniel and I must confess that this was among the best school tours we have experienced. Here’s why:

  • Meaningful student assessments

Educators from the 530-student school credit much of their success to devoting the first three weeks of every school year solely to student testing. After that, teachers and specialists have an in-service day, "Data retreat," where they map out the school year for every student. They identify who’s on track and who’s not–then they tailor instruction to each student via their innovative intervention block schedule. 

Churchill’s educators started transitioning to this data-driven approach about six years ago, and within the last two years they've arrived at an “extensive assessment procedure” and instructional approach that’s working well for students, teachers and parents. This isn't about absolute proficiency, but understanding the needs of every student and building stronger relationships with parents.

Dave said that they invested a lot of time on the front end–making sure all teachers were part of this evolution to a culture were all students were positioned for success. As Dave said, they talked a lot about “philosophy and fidelity of curriculum.” He continued, “The entire building had to get behind the philosophy, our schedule and assessments … We’re very prescribed now on what needs to be done.”

  • Impeccable transition times

Students and teachers lose little time in the hallway, transitioning between classrooms and subjects. For example, we sat in on a music class. We watched the students enter the classroom and within 15 seconds all students were seated with their feet planted on the floor, paying attention to their teacher and singing in harmony. 

  • Stellar school culture

Phil, who leads American Indian education for the school, emphasized that "Everyone is behind our approach, and that leads to success and strong culture … We promote high expectations and advance relationships, with students and parents.” For all students, teachers leverage the school's assessment tools to help parents understand not just how their kids are tracking over the course of the academic year, but how they're tracking across the continuum. And the school's block schedule has helped parents appreciate the differentiated learning styles and needs of students. 

We’ll post a blog later with more anecdotes, lessons learned and whatnot from the rest of our day in Cloquet–including meeting with the Rotary Club, huddling with a large number of community leaders and sitting down one-on-one with district leaders. 

If we still have your attention, check out our pictures from Cloquet here or watch our story on WDIO-TV in Duluth.


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