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Nevis named a Reward School

"Great news" was the subject line in Nevis superintendent Steve Rassier's e-mail to school staff Tuesday morning.

And great news came in threes.

Nevis elementary has been named a Reward School by the Minnesota Department of Education based on the state's new accountability system.

The designation is awarded to the top 15 percent of Title I schools (schools receiving federal aid).

The district also received notification of a $500,000 grant for construction of an Early Childhood complex, to be built on the east end of the elementary.

And the school board approved the purchase of 50 iPads that will be distributed to staff. Teachers will be asked to gain familiarity with the hand-held computers over the summer. They will be issued to next year's sixth graders as a pilot project.

Under the state's new rating system, Nevis elementary students scored an overall rating of 77 percent and an achievement gap rating of 81 percent.

The overall rating is a 0 to 100 score intended to show how well students performed on standardized tests, how much progress students make from one test to the next, progress in closing the achievement gap and, for high schools, the graduation rate.

Nevis secondary school received an overall rating of 70 percent and achievement gap rating of 67 percent.

The achievement gap, or focus rating, measures how well the school is doing in closing the achievement gap.

Most of Minnesota's 2,000 public schools received an overall numerical ranking, but only 255 schools - those receiving federal poverty aid - got one of three designations.

Reward Schools, the Nevis designation, are the highest performing 15 percent of Title I schools in the state. The state named 128 in this category.

Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools making the biggest contribution to the state's achievement gap, with 85 receiving this.

Priority schools are the 5 percent most persistently low performing Title I schools in the state. Forty- two schools received the designation.

Nevis was the only school in the area to receive a designation.

And it's a bit of an anomaly. The Star Tribune noted the middle to upper class schools tended to fare better in the tests; "affluent schools still climb to the top," the headline stated. But 66 percent of Nevis students qualify for free or reduced prices lunch, based on family income.

Laporte elementary school received a 15 percent overall rating and 40 percent achievement gap rating. The Laporte secondary school's ratings were 57 percent and 74 percent, respectively.

Walker-Hackensack-Akeley's elementary scores were 16 percent overall and a 36 percent achievement gap rating. The WHA secondary school scores were 44 and 47 percent, respectively.

Rassier told staff members the Reward School designation reflects on the entire pre-k through grade 12 staff.

"We love promoting the quality of our school and we again have documentation which verify the academic successes of our staff and students," he said in the memo.

Meanwhile, the finance committee will meet to determine how to pay for the matching amount for the $500,000 ECFE addition. Total estimated project cost is $995,800 for the 5,100- square-foot addition, remodeling of the existing hallway and other expenses.

The district could go to the voters with a referendum, Rassier said, or the school board can authorize a lease levy authority.

The building could conceivably open in the fall of 2013, Rassier said.

The Nevis ECFE currently serves approximately 70 students, 40 in the 4-year-old program, 30 in the 3-year-old program. Nevis ECFE collaborates with Mahube and Head Start.

And teachers will head home with homework this summer - gaining familiarity with iPads. They will be asked to experiment, explore applications and attend a workshop with a professional trainer the district will schedule.

Rassier is expecting a team of iPad cheerleaders returning to classrooms next fall.

If support is evident, the district could move forward with the plan to provide every student with an iPad, he said.