MARION — What is the recipe for creating an outstanding school?
Officials from the Linn-Mar Community School District say it’s a combination of strong bonds between teachers and students, active and engaged parents and low teacher turnover.
At Indian Creek Elementary in Marion, they’ve got all three, which has produced a student body — of about 530 kids — that was 92 percent proficient in both reading and math in 2015, placing it in the top 3 percent of Iowa schools.
Now, it’s also produced an honor that puts the school, 2900 Indian Creek Road, in distinguished company nationally.
Indian Creek Elementary has been named a “Blue Ribbon School” by the U.S. Department of Education. It is one of 279 public schools recognized this year. An additional 50 private schools are being honored.
“It’s quite an honor, and our staff and students and families are just very proud,” said Marilee McConnell, Indian Creek principal. “We want to continue the excellence, so that’s our new challenge.”
The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors exemplary high-performing schools, as well as those making exceptional gains in closing achievement gaps. In its 34-year history, the program has bestowed blue ribbons on approximately 8,000 schools.
“National Blue Ribbon Schools are proof that we can prepare every child for college and meaningful careers,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in a video message to this year’s honorees. “All of you — students, teachers and administrators — deserve our highest praise. You are shining examples for your communities, your state, and the nation.”
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Four other Iowa schools were also tapped this year: Westside Junior-Senior High in Westside, Helen A. Hansen Elementary in Cedar Falls, Franklin Elementary in Le Mars and West Union Elementary in West Union.
Linn-Mar Community School District Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said Indian Creek students’ academic scores grow from a foundation of strong community relationships at the school.
“One of the qualities that stands out so dramatically at Indian Creek is the sense of community between teachers and students, and teachers and parents,” Shepherd said. “That is not just specific to Indian Creek, it’s at all of our elementary schools. Throughout the district, we’re all celebrating.”
Parents’ support at the school, McConnell said, has been a driver of its success.
“Our parents are just very, very supportive of education, and they realize how important a good education is,” she said. “It’s a great partnership because then we can just take (students) as they come.”
Very few Indian Creek students — about 8 percent — qualify for free or reduced lunch, an indicator of low-income status.
Indian Creek also has low turnover of its teaching staff, said second-grade teacher Jennifer Dechant. She’s been at the school for 11 years and said longtime teachers have helped create a “homely feeling” in the building.
“They’re not just my kids or the teacher down the hall’s kids,” Dechant said. “They’re all of our kids.”
Dechant, McConnell and other staffers shared the news of the honor with their kindergarten through fifth-grade students last week during an assembly.
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“I think they started to feel really proud and really excited about the recognition,” Dechant said. “ ... One of my students said he felt so happy he felt happy tears.”
Recognition of Indian Creek’s accomplishment continues Nov. 7-8, when the U.S. Department of Education honors this year’s Blue Ribbon Schools at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
McConnell — who has been the school’s principal for three years and an educator for more than 35 years — said although Indian Creek earned the national honor, all educators deserve recognition.
“All schools work hard every day to ensure their students are learning,” she said. “We can’t take anything away from all that hard work at every school. We have to be humble because every school deserves some recognition for the hard work they do.”