BEMIDJI - Many schools are doing many things right, according to MinnCAN, a statewide education-reform advocacy group.

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In an effort to spread that message, MinnCAN has been touring the state on its Road to Success tour, celebrating schools that have achieved success in closing education gaps.

Representatives of the nonprofit were in the area Wednesday as they toured the secondary school in Laporte, which ranked third in state high schools last year for the performance of low-income high school students, and Bemidji’s Central Elementary, which ranked fourth in elementary American Indian student performance.

"We want to celebrate schools," said Daniel Sellers, MinnCAN executive director. "It can be easy to assume that all schools are doing these things and they’re not.

"We’ve visited hundreds of schools and some of the things we’re seeing definitely set them apart. It’s clear why they’re seeing success."

Both area schools are among nine in the region that earned top 10 rankings in MinnCAN’s 2013 report cards, developed based on data from the Minnesota Department of Education.

But the tour is about more than just highlighting schools. MinnCAN officials have been meeting with superintendents, principals, teachers and staff, taking input on the current state of Minnesota education.

"The trends are very clear," Sellers said.

One trend is that school leaders who meaningfully use data and assessments to plan student instruction have schools with higher student achievement.

"Second is partnerships with the community," Sellers said. "Everywhere we’ve gone, we see that these schools … leverage support."

In Laporte, for example, they partner with businesses for their vo-tech program. Laporte also draws students from Walker for Laporte’s vo-tech program and then sends some of its own students to Walker for culinary and nursing classes.

A third trend in success is development of an aligned vision for staff, from the superintendent on down.

"If you go into a school and you meet with a principal and a group of teachers and the principal does all the talking, you know you’re in trouble," Sellers said. "Everywhere we’ve gone … the principal is clearly empowering other leaders in their schools, to share the vision, to share what’s happening."

The goal is to take the information gained on the tour to develop a platform for lobbying and working with legislators to enact meaningful education policy reform.

"We’re an advocacy organization, so we do public affairs and communication and stuff, but at the end of the day, our goal is to implement smart, public policy," Sellers said. "We’ll take what we learn and try to turn that into smart policy recommendations for the Legislature."

Sellers said, as a nonpartisan nonprofit, MinnCAN may partner with the teacher’s union on one issue and align itself with the business community on another while also working with the school boards association on a third matter.

"Even thought all those groups aren’t always talking to each other, we’re trying to find common ground with each of them," Sellers said.

In addition to that work, MinnCAN will analyze and report on public education trends. For example, it soon will release its Native American student-achievement report, which will include information from this most recent tour.

Sellers said MinnCAN is careful in recommending policy change that will advocate for improvement without suggesting across-the-state mandates.

"As a facilitator, our goal is to put it in front of people, to help them understand what’s working across the state," he said. "But you’ve got to be careful trying to mandate these things because what works in Laporte might not work in Lakeville."

making the grade

Nine regional schools obtained top 10 rankings from MinnCAN in its 2013 report card report.

They include:

- Bagley Secondary School: ranked seventh in high school American Indian student performance.

- Bemidji Middle School: third in middle school American Indian student performance.

-Bemidji Senior Lumberjack Area Learning Center: fourth in high school American Indian student performance.

- Cass Lake-Bena Elementary School: eighth in elementary school American Indian student performance.

- Cass Lake-Bena Secondary School: ninth in high school American Indian student performance.

- Central Elementary School: fourth in elementary school American Indian student performance.

- Laporte Secondary School: third in high school low-income student performance.

- TrekNorth High School: fourth in middle school low-income student performance.

- Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Secondary: seventh in middle school American Indian student performance.