The lawn outside Cloquet's Washington Elementary school flooded with purple on the afternoon of Friday, May 28, as students, staff and the community gathered to celebrate the school's validation as a Minnesota School of Excellence, as well as other successes.

Principal Robbi Mondati said the celebration was long overdue, with Washington having officially been validated in the summer of 2019, following two years of hard work.

Mondati explained that the celebration and presentation of the award were originally scheduled for spring 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those plans were delayed until now.

Cloquet school district staff pose for a photo with their Minnesota School of Excellence award and its presenter, Jon Millerhagen of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association. From left: Robbi Mondati, Tracy Mattson, Mike Mattson, Kim Broman, Jon Millerhagen, Michael Cary. (Photo by Jess Gagne)
Cloquet school district staff pose for a photo with their Minnesota School of Excellence award and its presenter, Jon Millerhagen of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association. From left: Robbi Mondati, Tracy Mattson, Mike Mattson, Kim Broman, Jon Millerhagen, Michael Cary. (Photo by Jess Gagne)

According to Mondati, staff had discussed whether or not to have any festivities so late in the game, but ultimately decided that it was worth it.

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“Our pride is just as strong as it was then," she said.

The SEO validation process is done through the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association, which recognizes schools based on national standards for leadership, vision, student learning, culture of adult learning, community engagement and data and decision making.

Schools that wish to be validated spend years conducting an extensive self-study, forming goals, creating action steps and implementing those action steps.

"You don't … become a school of excellence overnight," Mondati said. “We have a lot of staff that invested a great deal of time and energy.”

MESPA executive director Jon Millerhagen acknowledged the hard work put in by everyone at the school during his presentation of the SEO validation award to Washington school staff and officials.

"In addition to helping a school take measure of its performance, this program reveals ways the staff might improve the school," he said. "This is what Washington Elementary had done so successfully."

Mondati explained that a main highlight of Washington's application to become a SEO was their focus on holistic learning strategies.

Even after their 2019 validation, Mondati said the school is continuing to evolve to meet student needs.

They have added layers to their approach that cover academic needs, social-emotional needs, mental-health needs, behavior intervention needs, cultural needs and even the implications of socio-economic needs.

"It has been almost (two) years since our validation, and I am even more proud of our staff and students today than I was then," Mondati said. "Our school community has worked incredibly hard to get through this year, constantly adapting and doing our best to serve our students and their families."

Washington Elementary School Principal Robbi Mondati addresses students, faculty, staff and community members at a school rally on Friday, May 28, 2021, at the Cloquet school. The group gathered to celebrate Washington Elementary's validation as a Minnesota School of Excellence, as well as student accomplishments. (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@pinejournal.com)
Washington Elementary School Principal Robbi Mondati addresses students, faculty, staff and community members at a school rally on Friday, May 28, 2021, at the Cloquet school. The group gathered to celebrate Washington Elementary's validation as a Minnesota School of Excellence, as well as student accomplishments. (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@pinejournal.com)

In addition to recognizing their validation, the school also sought to celebrate other achievements at Friday's event, such as student success, the end of the school year and "purple pride."

According to Mondati, Washington has been recognized for two consecutive years for its successful implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports, or PBIS, through their "purple pride" model.

She explained that by encouraging students to model "purple pride," Washington has offered positive reinforcement and incentives for academic and behavioral success.

Students and staff proudly wore purple pride T-shirts at Friday's event, cheering through their masks as different speakers acknowledged the school community.

Following Millerhagen's presentation, Mondati spent time recognizing students who had achieved success over the past year, whether it was through academics or community service.

She also awarded two students with bikes and announced that as a part of end-of-year celebrations, she would be taking a trip into a dunk tank in the near future.

Students erupted with joy, clapping and cheering, as Mondati laughed at her future fate.

Washington Elementary students erupt with joy at a school rally on Friday, May 28, 2021, after Principal Robbi Mondati announces that she will be going in a dunk tank next week as a part of the school's end-of-year celebrations. (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@pinejournal.com)
Washington Elementary students erupt with joy at a school rally on Friday, May 28, 2021, after Principal Robbi Mondati announces that she will be going in a dunk tank next week as a part of the school's end-of-year celebrations. (Izabel Johnson / ijohnson@pinejournal.com)


Washington Elementary counselor Abbi Sewell has been working at the school for five years and shared that they typically hold an annual end-of-year celebration, but that festivities were mostly delayed or canceled last year because of the pandemic. She was grateful they were able to end this year on a more positive note.

“It feels special," she said. “It’s a sense of normalcy for the kids."

Mondati is in her sixth year of serving as Washington's principal and credits the school staff and students for the hard work that went into the school's success.

"It's a school that has impressed me since my first day," she said.