Minnesota School of Excellence

Shannon McParland, who led the effort to get Sioux Trail Elementary named a Minnesota School of Excellence, is in her fifth year as principal of the Burnsville school. (Photo by John Gessner)

Sioux Trail notches another prestigious award

Just in time for a new school year, Sioux Trail Elementary School has received its second prestigious honor in two years.

The Burnsville school was named a Minnesota School of Excellence last month by the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association. It’s one of eight schools chosen for the 2017-18 awards.

In 2016, Sioux Trail was named the top school in the Local Government Innovation Awards competition sponsored by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The school was honored for its groundbreaking effort in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District 191 to promote cultural proficiency.

In addition to piloting the district’s Culturally Proficient School System program, Sioux Trail has notched some of the district’s largest achievement gains on state tests.

The principals association award honors the school for its “commitment to 21st century teaching and learning.”

“It’s a small school, but I think we’re doing great things,” said Amy Isenberger, a parent of two Sioux Trail students and past president of the Parent-Teacher Organization.

Fifth-year Principal Shannon McParland entered the competition with blessings from her teacher leadership team and PTO leaders. A committee met monthly last school year to compile the self-examination the competition required.

Regardless of whether Sioux Trail won the award, McParland said she knew the preparation would be time well-spent.

“To me, it’s part of the school improvement plan” district schools complete annually, she said. “It will drive the work we do for the next five to seven years.”

For parents, even those as involved as Isenberger, the process was an eye-opening look at the work and training teachers do behind the scenes to deliver in the classroom, she said.

Numerical measurements were only part of the self-study, but Sioux Trail — which has roughly 320 students, half receiving meal subsidies and half students of color — had good news to report.

Reading and math scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments have improved steadily each year since 2014.

In 2017, 69.7 percent of Sioux Trail students tested met proficiency in reading, compared with 52.7 percent districtwide and 60.2 percent in Minnesota, according to the state Department of Education. Sioux Trail’s reading proficiency has grown from 53.2 percent in 2014.

In math, 66.3 percent of students tested met proficiency, compared with 47.6 percent districtwide and 58.7 percent in Minnesota. Sioux Trail’s math proficiency has grown from 56.6 percent in 2014.

“We have gone up anywhere from 2 to 5 percent in reading and math consistently” in the last four years, said McParland, who taught for 17 years in St. Paul and has taught in Minneapolis. “There’s a visual hanging in our entryway, so you will see the progression. Right now we’re one of the top-achieving schools south of the river with our reading growth. We are the highest-achieving ISD 191 school for reading. We are, in math, steadily growing as well.”

The school also noted its growth on the Multiple Measurement Rating system from 2015 to 2016. Its rating rose from 50.47 percent to 63.07 percent on the MMR, which measures not just proficiency but also growth and reduction in the achievement gap.

“We measure growth in many different ways,” McParland said. “And when it actually shows up on the state assessment, you celebrate, because you can have great growth in your building that doesn’t show up there.”

Through its work to become culturally proficient, Sioux Trail strives to have teachers interacting with students at their level, rather than expecting students to meet teachers’ cultural mode, Isenberger said.

“It really penetrates everything in the school, no matter which thing you’re talking about,” said Isenberger, who served three years as PTO president.

“Every one of those kids is working hard, regardless of what background they came from,” she said.

The self-study included an extensive online survey answered by 36 parents and staffers, McParland said. Some of the highest marks came on questions about diversity — whether the school values diverse people and perspectives and whether it values diversity as an enhancement to learning, not a barrier.

“It’s what do you believe, what do you value, and what do you assume? That’s the whole premise” of a culturally proficient school, McParland said.

But communication remains a challenge, she said.

“Half of the parents are very, very involved parents, and they’re like, ‘What do you mean you have a belief statement?’ We have it hanging in our building now so people can see: This is what we believe in, and these are the values we function under every single day in this building. My goal this year is to really let our community know the successes we’re having and to share them.”