Articles of Interest

Bemidji Pioneer: Sun, Dec. 16, 2007

TrekNorth Named One of the Top Public High Schools in Minnesota
BY Michelle Ruckdaschel
Bemidji Pioneer

Five years ago, TrekNorth Senior High School first opened its doors to students.

Now, the Bemidji charter school ranks among the top six public high schools in Minnesota in U.S. News & World Report’s 2008 America’s Best High Schools.

TrekNorth Senior High School received a silver medal in the magazine’s first-ever ranking of the nation’s public high schools.

Dan McKeon, director of TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School, and high school language arts teacher Erica Harmsen help students in a college prep class research colleges online Friday afternoon. From left, the students are sophomore Eliza Lussier, sophomore Michelle Mountain, senior Ellen Munson and junior Alex Larsen. U.S. News & World Report has named TrekNorth Senior High School as one of the top six public high schools in Minnesota.

Dan McKeon, director of TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School, and high school language arts teacher Erica Harmsen help students in a college prep class research colleges online Friday afternoon. From left, the students are sophomore Eliza Lussier, sophomore Michelle Mountain, senior Ellen Munson and junior Alex Larsen. U.S. News & World Report has named TrekNorth Senior High School as one of the top six public high schools in Minnesota. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

TrekNorth Director Dan McKeon said the recognition validates the hard work of the school’s teachers and students. “A lot of it is just pure hard work — long hours, refusing to quit and refusing to let others quit,” McKeon said.

U.S. News & World Report, in collaboration with School Evaluation Services, analyzed academic and enrollment data from more than 18,000 public high schools in 40 participating states to find the very best in the nation, according to the U.S. News & World Report Web site. The search, based on data from the 2005-06 school year, resulted in the top high schools receiving gold, silver or bronze medals.

The top 100 high schools won gold medals. Also, 405 high schools received silver medals — thus ranking in the top 3 percent of all 18,790 high schools analyzed for the report — and 1,086 high schools received bronze medals.

Six high schools in Minnesota received silver medals while 31 received bronze medals. No high school in the state received a gold medal.

Besides TrekNorth, the other Minnesota high schools receiving silver medals are Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Mahtomedi High School in Mahtomedi, Moorhead High School in Moorhead, Orono High School in Long Lake and St. Anthony Village High School in St. Anthony.

U.S. News & World Report judged the high schools on three categories: performance of all students on state assessments, performance of the least-advantaged (minority and low-income) students on state assessments and college readiness. The college readiness category was based on Advanced Placement data.

College prep focus

Of the six Minnesota high schools receiving silver medals, McKeon said TrekNorth received the highest score in college readiness.

He said TrekNorth’s focus on directing students toward college readiness and offering pre-AP and AP courses is the biggest change at the school since it opened five years ago.

“One hundred percent of our (high school) kids are in either AP or pre-AP classes and most of them are in both,” he said.

TrekNorth also operates a junior high school in which all students take pre-AP classes.

By the time TrekNorth students are juniors and seniors, their schedules are dominated by AP classes, McKeon said.

“It’s not like AP is optional,” he said.

TrekNorth Senior High School, which has 117 students in grades 9-12, also provides a daily 30-minute college prep class for all students. While freshmen work on study skills, note taking, vocabulary and other skills, seniors work on tasks including filling out college and scholarship applications.

McKeon said TrekNorth’s focus on college readiness is complemented by its outdoor and service learning programs as well as its small class sizes.

“We all know each other,” McKeon said.

Students and staff members spend time together both inside the classroom and outside the school on trips.

“I think there’s a huge sense of family,” senior Thomas Skime said.

Joe Beaulieu, who is also a senior, added that TrekNorth’s community atmosphere makes it less intimidating for students to approach teachers.

Senior Ellen Munson also said the student-teacher interaction at TrekNorth is a plus.

“It’s a complete family connection,” she said.

Proving its success

Mike Munson, who teaches high school history and psychology at TrekNorth, agreed with McKeon that the U.S. News & World Report recognition is an important validation.

“I feel validated, but I also feel proud,” he said.

Munson said students at TrekNorth work very hard. He also said he believes it’s the school’s obligation to help students understand that everyone can go to college and succeed.

Deb Carlson-Doom, who teaches junior high and high school math, said TrekNorth has a mix of students who have lots of previous success and students who haven’t found success in other places.

“I think it’s notable that we have all kinds of students and to some level, they’re finding success here,” she said. “I think it’s the energy of the staff and the energy of the students — and the drive of both — that makes it successful.”

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