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Terrific Trifecta

Three Blue Ribbons in Three Years for District Grade Schools


Countryside Elementary has joined Brown and Marshall schools as a National Blue Ribbon School winner, giving the district the distinction that all three of its elementary schools have received the honor in the past three years.

“The biggest thing is the staff here is very passionate and committed to the idea that people and culture and relationships are what matter most,” said Countryside Principal Jolynne Dobson. “When that’s done really well the academic achievement come along with it. They have never been willing to shortcut that just for test scores.”

Countryside, which enrolls about 520 students, is among 13 Michigan schools to receive the recognition this year. The U.S. Department of Education is honoring 342 schools nationwide at a recognition ceremony on Nov. 6-7 in Washington, D.C. Each school receives a banner and plaque.

In its 35-year history, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed this coveted award upon more than 8,500 of America’s public and private schools.

Countryside was recognized in the category of Exemplary High Performing Schools for being among the state’s top-achieving schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. Student subgroup performance and high school graduation rates are also at the highest levels.

First-graders Evie Jones, in front, and Sophia O’Keefe practice their reading skills

“We are incredibly proud of the kids,” Dobson said. “Our theme this year is ‘Got Grit?’ This whole award has made me realize our kids already do have grit. … It boils down to them. They are the ones that care and work hard.”

Dobson also credited the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) process the district has been going through in the past six years, increasing collaboration, aligning curriculum and creating a sense that all schools in the district are working together. The elementary principals’ motto is, “We are one elementary school in three buildings.”

In Dobson’s six years as principal, the district has aligned K-12 reading, writing and math curriculums and have sent more than 70 teachers for training in reading and writing instruction to Teachers College at Columbia University, in New York. They’ve also worked with a Kent ISD consultant in math to implement strategies for students to comprehend math using different methods.

The success of the district speaks volumes about its leadership, she said, adding Superintendent Dan Takens is “passionate about every child.”

Takens said meeting the needs of the whole child, so all students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged, is “the bedrock for children to reach their emotional, social and cognitive potential.” Staff, parents and students share the expectation that all children can and should reach grade-level proficiency, he said.

“Teaching and learning-wise, the PLC culture, along with the very focused reading and writing workshop (and) all three elementary schools working in collaboration, has been the capstone for high student achievement in all elementary schools,” Takens said.

The community is very supportive, and programs connect students to resources like food and mentoring, Dobson said: “All of that factors into why Byron is so successful as a district.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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