By Scott Stein
Keewatin Elementary School Principal Peter Hardy prefers to give other people credit and to make sure the spotlight isn’t on him.
But facts are facts. The school Hardy leads recently became a “Reward School,” a state designation given to top-performing Title One schools. The award alone would be worth celebrating, but it’s even more impressive when you consider the leap the school made.
The school previously had been operating as a “Priority School,” the designation given to the lowest performing Title One schools. In other words, Keewatin has made massive progress from being looked at as a troubled school to one of the state’s school turnaround success stories.
That doesn’t happen by accident.
“A few years ago we knew we needed to make changes,” Hardy said. “The staff and everyone else have worked very hard to make this happen. We’re proud of what has happened here, and I don’t mean to sound arrogant. But we’re not surprised.”
He’s not surprised because he helped lead a school improvement plan that included identifying the schools strengths and weaknesses, identifying new math and reading curriculum and moving toward differentiated instruction.
Nashwauk-Keewatin Schools Superintendent Mark Adams said the turnaround in Keewatin is the result of a lot of people all focusing in the same direction. He acknowledges that it takes a team of people to bring about the change, but that doesn’t mean he downplays the role that Hardy played.
“You have to have a lot of things happen,” Adams said. “We brought in resources. We had a huge commitment from staff, and we had a good plan that we worked very hard to make happen. You need leadership, and we had it here.”
The formula used to calculate the school improvement is complicated. It uses a measurement called Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR) to measure proficiency, growth, achievement gap reduction and graduation rates. At one point, Keewatin’s rating was 8.34 percent. This year it is 99.94 percent, the highest in the state.
Keewatin is catching the attention of everyone.
That includes organizations who give awards. Hardy was nominated by staff for an administrator of excellence award, a subject he is characteristically apt to deflect. The award is known as The Minnesota National Distinguished Principals Award, sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Finalists will be chosen in February and the award will be given in May.
“I’m flattered to be nominated,” Hardy said. “But the real story is the educating that’s going on here. What we’re doing is truly individualized instruction. The teachers know where each student is doing well and struggling and they have plans to help move them along. We have such a great staff here, and we’re so far ahead of the curve.”
Statistics and awards aren’t everything, and when it comes to educating kids they’re insignificant in comparison. But they do tell a story and they are symbols. Something remarkable has occurred in Keewatin, and it’s likely more and more people are looking here to discover how to turn things around.
For Hardy, it’s now a matter of keeping things going.
“You’d think there would be less pressure,” he said. “But we’re constantly looking at ways to improve. We’re always working on a school improvement plan.”