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St. Ignatius school receives high level award

ST. IGNATIUS – The St. Ignatius School District is a trendsetter in the awards department from the state. 

“We are in uncharted territory,” said High School Principal Shawn Hendrickson. 

The Montana Office of Public Instruction honored the school with the Platinum Award for the 2017-18 school year for a second year in a row. 

Last year, the school was the first multi-school district in the state to have all of their schools – elementary, middle, and high school – achieve OPI’s highest award level with the Montana Behavioral Initiative program, and the school received it again this year. The award ceremony was held at Montana State University in late June with a couple thousand teachers and administrators in attendance. 

The school was also the first reservation school in the state to receive a gold level award a few years ago and then the first to receive platinum. 

Schools can earn a bronze, silver, gold or platinum level by achieving the state’s requirements with a focus on student intervention, public support, and mentoring. Judges from OPI go into the schools and spend a day looking at the programs and talking to teachers and students before deciding on the scores.

“Once you get the award, it gets tougher to keep achieving it, not easier,” he said. “The school has to go above what they did the year before.”

Hendrickson said the district focused on student intervention and mentoring last year in all grade levels with teachers and administrators watching for red flags that indicate that a student might be struggling. The student is then paired with a mentor to help figure out a plan to address those issues. 

“We work hard to keep the kids from slipping through the cracks and help them graduate,” he said. “Our consultant said the work we are doing has made us a model district for the state.”

Hendrickson believes giving the students a voice in their education has also helped the school stand out. He explained that the staff works to support students if they have ideas or plans for the school. For example, the students wanted to created a suicide awareness project last year. They organized high school students into groups to talk about the issue so that struggling kids could see that they weren’t alone. The school’s counselor helped with the project.

“If there is a project or idea that comes from the kids, we are all in,” he said.

In an effort to get the award for next school year, the staff is working on strategies to bring the graduation rate up from 90 to 100 percent. They are also developing a lab for all grade levels with a focus on science, technology, engineering, art and math with activities like computer coding and 3D printing. 

“We predict that this will help kids move into careers related to these fields,” he said. “We are really excited about this new project. We hope this gives our middle school students more options, so they stay interested and are excited to move forward in school.”

Hendrickson gave credit to the school’s superintendent, Jason Sargent, and the school board for the award. “Their forward thinking and support has helped make this happen,” he said.  

The school received a platinum sticker to put on their banner, which is about filled up with awards from the past six years. “We will make room for more,” he said. “We want to keep going with this to give the kids as many opportunities as we can.”

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