• Elk River school awarded District 728’s first ever state ‘School of Excellence’ honor
by Jim Boyle
Twin Lakes Elementary School was filled with pomp and circumstance May 19 as the school was awarded a Minnesota School of Excellence award from the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association.
Students entered the celebration to the sound of the Elk River High School band, led by John Rosner. The excitement didn’t stop once they entered the school’s gymnasium.
John Millerhagen, the executive director of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association, came out to Twin Lakes to present the award. He also got a tour of the school from fifth-grade students.
“I have to tell to you that was the most interesting and exciting tour I’ve had,” he told the school of 900-plus students, parents, teachers, volunteers and support staff. “You folks have an amazing school. This is a wonderful place to be.”
Millerhagen said he was impressed with how much fun kids have learning at the Elk River school.
“That’s something to be proud of,” he said. “The words I heard were ‘wow, cool, amazing, awesome, fantastic, super, perfect and this is the best school on Earth.’ ”
The association endorses schools whose principals, staff, students and community — working as a team — demonstrate a desire to strengthen education by assessing their school’s alignment with national standards in the areas of leadership, vision, student learning, culture of adult learning, data and decision-making, and community engagement.
Principal Dan Collins, whose membership in the principals’ association dates back to the beginning of his administrative career, said the idea to pursue the award came attending conventions.
“Every year I would hear one, two or three schools receiving an award and listen to what they were doing,” Collins said. “I’d think to myself: ‘We’re doing these great things and more.’ ”
The “more” includes kids having fun.
“I truly do believe school should be fun as long as you are learning and showing respect,” Collins told the Star News. “I believe kids need to have an atmosphere where they see happiness, respect and the ability to learn while having fun.
“I always tell the students and staff that if they are learning and growing, doing the right things, showing respect, I’ll do fun things for them.”
Collins said he wants kids to see him as a person who cares about them, respects them and loves to have fun.
Elk River Area School District Superintendent Mark Bezek encouraged Collins and his school to go for the award when he began to toy with the idea. Bezek said the School of Excellence program is supported by the Minnesota Department of Education and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
It requires an applying school to complete a self-study to build on strengths and address areas needing improvement, Bezek said, noting there are six standards, including being learner-centered, having high expectations and standards for academic, social, emotional and physical development of all students in an environment that fosters and celebrates diversity.
“Twin Lakes has been open seven years, and in that time Dan and his staff have developed a team that has created an environment of excellence,” Bezek said. “This is validation of this recognition.”
Elk River Mayor John Dietz, who grew up in Elk River, said his school days were his best days. He encouraged the kids to enjoy them and to work hard.
“You have great teachers and great administrators, but you students have to put forth the effort,” he said. “You have to want to learn. If you want to learn, there’s lots of people here to help you accomplish that.”
Fifth-grade teacher Becky Herbert helped Collins with the process of applying to become a school of excellence.
“She deserves a lot of credit,” Collins said.
Herbert said her role was to wrap up all the things the school does for kids each and every day and put them into words.
“It was an amazing process,” Herbert said. “It forced me to slow down and really look at everything we do here to make it an amazing school.
“I am absolutely humbled by the people I work with every day,” she said.
Herbert thanked Collins.
“He values his Twin Lakes family and he has built a close, connected culture that is built on trust and relationships,” she said. “He has high expectations for all of us and is constantly looking for ways to improve.”