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Horace May Elementary School receives 2007 School Spotlight Award

A spotlight is shining brightly on Horace May Elementary School.

The Bemidji school is one of 10 schools around the state to receive the 2007 School Spotlight Award from the Minnesota Academic Excellence Foundation.

The award shines a spotlight on a school's curriculum, instruction, assessment and staff development that addresses student needs and works toward success for all.

On Tuesday morning, students, staff members, administrators, parents and others gathered at Horace May to celebrate the accomplishment.

"What a great day for Horace May," said Superintendent Jim Hess, one of the speakers at the celebration. "You're building a reputation as a great school."

On behalf of the MAEF, Mike Smith, president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, presented the award to Horace May Principal Bill Burwell.

"This was a team effort on everybody's part," said Burwell, who in turn presented the award to a group of people representing the school's students and staff members.

Horace May's academic success is evident in its scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-II and Making Academic Progress assessments. The school, where 41 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches and 13 percent of the students are in special education, has outscored the state in both the MCA-II and MAP tests.

But, Burwell said, that's only half the success at Horace May.

He said the school's success also comes from one of its mottos, "Horace May Practices the Big K ... Kindness," which school leaders and teachers developed about 10 years ago.

"We've built the climate of kindness," Burwell said. "It's our culture here."

He noted that Horace May's staff members also contribute to the school's success. He said they are "so kid-focused," often putting themselves aside for the benefit of the students.

"It's like no other place I've been," Burwell said.

Dan Hovestol, a parent of three children who have attended Horace May, wrote a letter to the MAEF in support of the school's application for the School Spotlight Award.

"As parents, my wife and I were hoping for an elementary school that developed a sense of community where our children could learn and grow," Hovestol read from his letter Tuesday morning. "What we received at Horace May has far exceeded what we could have hoped for."

He said the experiences his family has gained from Horace May fall into three main categories: quality education, development of a sense of pride and caring staff.

"You are lucky to be a part of this school," he told the students at the celebration. "This award is a reflection of you."

He also thanked the staff members for their dedication to the students and Burwell for his dedication and leadership.

Horace May teachers said the award is an honor.

"We're humbled by it," said third-grade teacher Bob McKeown, who is in his 27th year of teaching at Horace May. "We're amazed by it. It's really nice to be recognized."

Fourth-grade teacher Jon Shorter, who is in his 26th year of teaching at the school, said the award is a small reflection of all the work that the Horace May community puts in day after day, year after year.

Fifth-grade teacher Lisa Vind, who is in her 16th year of teaching at the school, said many things come together in positive ways at Horace May. Not only does the school strive for academic excellence, but, she said, parents are actively involved and staff members have a personal connection with the students.

Liana Schaefer, a former Horace May student who is now in her first year of teaching at the school, said Horace May has a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.

"There's just nothing like Horace May," the second-grade teacher said. "It's so great that that hasn't changed at all since I was a kid."