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Celebrating their blue ribbon school

‘We were just doing what we do’

Caledonia —  Principal Shawn Veitch led a celebration for his team of staff, teachers and community members who gathered recently in Dutton Elementary’s cafeteria. 

Blue and white balloons and streamers fit the theme of honoring the school’s achievement of being recognized as a 2021 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education as an exemplary high performing school.

National Blue Ribbon Schools

The U.S. Department of Education’s national program recognizes public and private elementary, middle and high schools based on academic excellence and progress in closing achievement gaps.

“It’s because of you, and I am so proud of you guys,” Veitch told those in the room. “On behalf of our school, I’d like to congratulate everyone involved in making Dutton Elementary a great place to learn.”

Veitch presented a slideshow of photos featuring Dutton students and teachers set to music and a video of U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, recognizing 325 schools as 2021 honorees.

“We found out about the honor in late February,” Veitch explained, “but were sworn to secrecy until the official press release went out on Tuesday, Sept. 21 and the video announcement the next day.”  

Said third-grade teacher Casey King: “We were surprised and shocked at the initial news, but it’s a great honor. We weren’t trying to win anything. We were just doing what we do, but this is the icing on the cake.”

Principal Shawn Veitch hosted a party in the cafeteria to celebrate being recognized as a Blue Ribbon School

Building Blocks

Veitch attributed the achievement to the foundation built by the teachers and administrators who came before them.

“How did we achieve this? We’ve built common systems for learning and classroom expectations. We have a common language across our entire building for our people to understand,” he said. “Love is at the center of who we are.”

Renee Rosenburg, literacy coordinator and former second-grade teacher of over 20 years, praised staff for supporting and encouraging one another despite the anxiety of teaching during the pandemic. 

“It was very rewarding to step back and think about all the things we have in place to contribute to our students’ experience,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a beautiful reminder of the heart and soul that goes into supporting our students. We went above and beyond and (Veitch) leads with such an enthusiastic spirit and empowers people.”

During his presentation, Veitch explained that Dutton’s 2018-19 M-STEP test scores helped determine their exemplary status. 

In 2018-2019, 61.6% of Dutton third-, fourth- and fifth-graders scored proficient on M-STEP mathematics, compared to 41% of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders statewide, according to MI School Data; 72.7% of the same group scored proficient in M-STEP English, compared to 45.7% statewide. 

According to a press release, Dutton earned the title “Reward School 2018-2019″ for earning all A’s or “significantly above average” in all categories rated by the state.

Veitch and his staff also regularly partner with a local church and several businesses, volunteer with students at a weekly summer reading program and connect students with Kids Hope USA mentors and weekly food distribution. 

“Dutton Elementary is a great example of a school that prepares students to make a positive difference in the community by empowering all students to achieve their best and cultivate agile learners,” Superintendent Dedrick Martin said. “I knew there was something special about this school. You all don’t make excuses; you make waves. We are proud of you. We are behind you. Rock on, Dutton!”

After toasting to their success, teachers shared their feelings about working at Dutton.

“(Veitch) really sets the tone for the school,” long-time kindergarten teacher Heidi Kruizenga said. “It’s always been such a great place to work and we’ve been working really hard in our classes this past year.”

Added kindergarten teacher Victoria Young, “It feels so affirming to have your work seen and acknowledged. There’s no place like Dutton.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN. Read Alexis' full bio

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