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Piedmont honored as school of excellence

The Piedmont community has two big reasons to be proud of its school. First, Piedmont Elementary School has been educating children for 50 years. Second, the school recently earned a Minnesota School of Excellence Award.

The Piedmont community has two big reasons to be proud of its school. First, Piedmont Elementary School has been educating children for 50 years. Second, the school recently earned a Minnesota School of Excellence Award.
A community "50 Years of Excellence in Education" celebration will be held at the school on Monday, May 7, beginning at 5:30 p.m. More than 600 RSVPs have been returned, and most of those are from alumni.
The celebration will include presentations by Mayor Gary Doty, School Superintendent Julio Almanza, alumni staff, along with an awards ceremony, music, a picnic and a tour of the school.
The halls will be decorated with student art and essays written by students about their memories of the school. The tour will lead to the media center, where displays of the school's last five decades will be featured.
Also, after looking through 50 years of scrapbooks, Piedmont staff has compiled a memory book about the school's history, and it will be for sale at the celebration.
"Our whole reason for this celebration was to thank the community, the parents and our staff for all these 50 years," said Stephanie Heilig, the school's principal.
Piedmont School has steadily grown over the past 50 years. In 1964, a library and four classrooms were added to the school. Then in 1980, the gymnasium was extended with four more classrooms added.
The school's growth and dedication to its students has culminated in an important achievement: The Minnesota School of Excellence Award.
Applying for the award was a year-long, complicated process that involved the entire Piedmont staff.
"It's not something any school can take lightly," Heilig said. "It gave us time to do a lot of soul searching."
The award is presented annually to various schools by the Minnesota Elementary School Principal's Association (MESPA). Each school that applies must complete a systematic program assessment, develop a school improvement plan and then implement the plan.
This year, the award went to eight elementary schools in Minnesota, including North Shore Elementary School.
When Heilig proposed applying for the Excellence Award to a site team, she said there was a sense of apprehension, but at the same time excitement. This was a huge undertaking, but one that needed to be done.
"After my first year here, I knew the school was special. What this staff does for students is magic," Heilig said.
An intensive year of reflection and planning for the future followed. The result was an approximately 100-page application submitted to the MESPA for review.
The application included the school's mission statement, organization, curriculum, staff development, school climate, evaluation and assessment, goals and action plans and a site improvement plan.
"I think a school has to be in a very healthy place," said Heilig about applying for the award. "It required a lot of self-examination."
Teamwork is attributed to both the school's success and earning the award.
"Every single staff member has had a hand in it, and the parents and the community," Heilig said.
Last September the school was notified about earning the award.
"I think it was a way of putting the things that we do into writing," said Nancy Zbaracki, a second-grade teacher at Piedmont.
"It was kind of like going to grad school and finally getting the master's degree," Heilig said.

Sandi Dahl is a news reporter for the Budgeteer News. To reach her, call 723-1207 or send e-mail to sandi.dahl@duluth.com .

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