A school success story
Tower-Soudan Elementary showing small classes, dedicated teachers can make a huge difference for students

The gains made by Tower-Soudan Elementary School demonstrate the value of dedicated teachers and small class sizes, and could serve as a model for success at other schools in and outside of ISD 2142.

Designated as a Reward School last fall, Tower-Soudan was again in the spotlight academically with the recent release of school rankings by the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now. According to the organization, T-S students made the greatest gains in state performance tests last year in all of Minnesota, producing a 43.4-percent average increase in reading and math from the previous year. As a whole, the school posted a 31.1-percent gain. By comparison, the district recorded a 5.1-percent gain.

Daniel Sellers, executive director of MinnCAN, said the goal in recognizing the state’s top schools is to use them as examples for other schools.

Schools such as Tower-Soudan “should be on everyone’s radar for student learning,” said Sellers, “and we hope the greater community can engage in conversations on why schools such as these are leading the pack so that we can better share proven strategies and best practices across all public schools.”

There’s a saying that success has many fathers and no doubt that also applies to T-S. But T-S’s success begins with teachers, who not only are dedicated to their students but also have developed a collegiate atmosphere that encourages staff to work together — whether it be a more experienced teacher mentoring others or teachers working in concert to ensure lessons progress from grade to grade in a coherent and logical manner.

That type of environment can best emerge in a school with a stable staff and the T-S Elementary has been blessed in that regard. Besides helping develop relationships among the staff it also helps teachers and support staff take more ownership in the school. ISD 2142 and its teachers union should strive to create the same type of culture at its other school sites. The current bumping system employed in the district uproots teachers too often. That’s not good for teachers or students.

The advantages of smaller class sizes also play a key role in the school’s success, because teachers have the time to give more individual attention to the students who need it.

In addition, smaller class sizes are more conducive to different approaches in teaching and allow teachers to better tailor classes to students’ needs. Teachers are able to devote more time to hands-on learning. T-S teachers, for instance, have taken the lead in developing more flex programming at the elementary level and working in conjunction with other classes on some subjects.

While T-S’s success can be instructive for other schools inside and outside of ISD 2142, not every aspect can be transplanted from one school to the next. Class sizes at most ISD 2142 schools are unlikely to get as small as classes at T-S, but keeping class sizes manageable should be a goal.

Other goals should be developing strong relationships among staff and working together on projects for students. North Woods, for instance, has combined several different classes on common projects such as an Empty Bowl fundraiser or combining science and industrial arts on the birdhouse project.

And let’s not forget that families also play a key role in their children’s education. Parents who take an interest in their children’s education, read to them at home and encourage a healthy diet and proper rest can make a crucial difference, as well.

The success of T-S Elementary School demonstrates that small communities can provide a quality education and provides a challenge for other area schools to do the same.

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