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Area school earns national honor

LAMBERTON -- Red Rock Central High School may be small, but it is mighty.

The school was one of 461 in the nation to earn a silver medal from the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of the top high schools in the country. Of the 11 Minnesota schools earning that honor, it was the only small, rural school.

"We try to do more with less resources then most of our counterparts in the urban settings. I think we have a staff that's really dedicated to the success of our students," said Principal Bruce Olson.

The magazine uses a three-step process to identify the best public high schools. Reading and math scores are considered, and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (who tend to score lower) enrolled at the school is factored in to identify schools performing better than would be expected. Analysts then compare each school's math and reading proficiency rates for economically disadvantaged students with the statewide proficiency rates for similar students, and select schools performing better than the state average.

If these two criteria are met, the third step is to determine how well each school prepares students for college as measured by the percentage of 12th-graders who take at least one Advanced Placement test. According to the U.S. News and World Report Web site, this process "examines how well a school serves its entire student body (average students, disadvantaged students and collegebound students)."

This year, 21,786 public high schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia were analyzed; of those, the top 100 were awarded gold medals, the next 461 top-performing schools were awarded silver medals, and an additional 1,189 schools were awarded bronze medals -- a designation RRC achieved in the 2006-2007 school year.

In the 2008-2009 school year, 62 percent of Red Rock Central High School students tested as proficient in math, the same as the state average. In reading, students had a 73 percent proficiency rate, slightly higher than the state average of 72 percent. Nearly 42 percent of students in the district are considered economically disadvantaged, Olson said.

"We believe in the success not only of our top-level students but all our students," he said. "We have a smaller setting that we believe helps kids thrive. All our kids are names to us; they aren't numbers."

The school also offered Advanced Placement courses in European history and statistics in 2007-2008, the academic year for which the awards were given. That year, nearly 47 percent of the 45 students in the senior class took an AP test in at least one of those subjects.

"We had some very active academic classes at the time; the students want to challenge themselves, they seek out rigorous courses," said Olson, who estimated 70 to 80 percent of the school's graduates attempt some form of post-secondary education.

Olson said the mix of veteran staff and new, younger teachers has made for a tradition of good academics. Olson himself has been in the now-consolidated district for 32 years.

The school has since lost its AP European history teacher, but AP statistics is being offered for the third year, and students can also take college-level classes on the high school campus through Southwest State University in Marshall. RRC also offers courses for vocational school credit, automotive repair and computer drawing, for example, in the school's on-site automotive shop.

Statistics teacher Bev Larson said there are 13 seniors in her two statistics classes.

"The children that are in there, virtually they're all college-bound," she said. "And one of the things I've emphasized is that statistics is the groundwork for many majors you have in college; virtually everybody needs statistics."

She said her students enjoy working on statistical problems, which they can relate to their own lives.

"The kids have a lot of fun with it," she said. "It's a very interactive class."