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Russell Elementary earns National Blue Ribbon School honor

Daily Inter Lake | October 1, 2020 12:00 AM

Russell Elementary School is among 367 National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2020, and was one of two Montana schools to make the list.

The award recognizes public and private K-12 schools and is based on overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.

Russell was recognized as an “exemplary high performing school,” meaning it was among Montana’s highest performing schools, which is measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Blue Ribbon recognition from the U.S. Department of Education is one of the most prestigious national awards that a school can receive,” Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Elsie Arntzen said in a press release. “It was my honor to nominate Clancy K-8 Elementary School and Russell Elementary School for their strong work in closing student achievement gaps and promoting student academic success.”

Through the application process, Russell described its work in areas such as academics, academic supports, school climate and culture and instructional strategies.

“As for Russell School itself, it is our belief that all students can learn. For this to happen there must be a stable foundation that all students can build upon. This foundation is known as Tier I instruction. All students receive tier I support to grow both academically and behaviorally,” the application for Russell Elementary stated.

At the time of its nomination in 2019, Russell had an enrollment of 243 students and was classified as rural with 81% eligible for free or reduced lunches, which helps determine the number of students who are from low-income families. Seven percent of students received special education services. The school reported a 94% daily attendance rate and a 13% turnover or mobility rate of students transferring in and out of the school.

Vickie Buck, current interim principal and former instructional coach at Russell, said it was an honor to receive national recognition.

Bill Sullivan, who was principal of Russell Elementary at the time of the nomination, said the recognition affirms the work staff and students are accomplishing.

“I think it’s a great honor and certainly speaks volumes to the work the staff of Russell Elementary School and students of Russell Elementary have done over many years,” Sullivan said.

“Over the past five or six years we’ve done a lot of things that have allowed us to get to where we are at,” he said, noting the behavior and academic supports and interventions put in place to help students succeed.

He also noted that Russell, and Kalispell Public Schools as a whole, has a greater awareness of how mental health affects student learning and the strategies that can help them.

“Combine those three things I think leads you in the right direction,” Sullivan said referring to a focus on academics, behavior and mental health. “We also had a school motto that year of ‘excellent instruction every day in every classroom.’”

The awards ceremony will be held virtually Nov. 12-13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information about the program visit

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at