Celebrating Educational Excellence in Minnesota

Barnesville Elementary was one of six Minnesota schools honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award. Three educators with Minnesota State University Moorhead ties accepted the award in Washington, D.C.

Every day students at Barnesville (Minnesota) Elementary School are greeted by distinctive flags that mark the school as one of the best in the nation.

This fall, Barnesville Elementary received a National Blue Ribbon Schools Award for Academic Excellence. The national program honors schools based on their academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps.

Barnesville Elementary earned the honor by building community.

“Our entire staff is on the same page,” said Lisa Gilbertson, a fourth-grade teacher. “Everyone feels connected to the students here. Students feel a sense of belonging. Really, this was an award for the entire school.”

Barnesville Elementary has 500 students. It has a teaching staff of 35 plus paraprofessionals and support staff. Among that group, nearly two dozen have connections to MSUM.

Chris Messer earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and her master’s in curriculum and instruction from MSUM. She says the university’s programs prepared her well for the classroom.

“A lot of the professors I had were former teachers and current teachers,” she said. “They could connect what we were studying to what we’d see in real life.”

In addition, Messer works with student teachers who come from MSUM.

“They’re immersed into the schools at an earlier point in their education, which means they know they want to be a teacher by the time they’re ready to student teach,” she says. “Not everyone knows what being a teacher entails, but these students do.”

Todd Hendrickson is principal at Barnesville Elementary. He earned a graduate degree in educational leadership through Tri-College University, taking some of his classes on the MSUM campus.

In December 2020, he received an email announcing the school’s nomination for the Blue Ribbon Award. The district superintendent encouraged him and the school staff to go through the process of applying.

“It’s a huge honor,” Hendrickson said.

Barnesville was selected for the honor because of what its teachers and staff do every day – connecting with kids so they become the best learners possible, Messer said.

But the school was also prepared for distance learning long before it became a household word across the country. In 2012, the school became a 1:1 iPad school, meaning every student received their own tablet. Educators believed that technology was an important way to prepare students for an ever-changing world.

It took time for teachers to become comfortable enough to incorporate iPads into the daily work, but these experiences made the district’s transition to distance learning in the spring of 2020 more successful, Hendrickson said.

“Our teachers were prepared and our parents were also familiar with the technology,” he said. “It helped us move forward quickly.”

Last November, Hendrickson, Gilbertson and Messer traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the Blue Ribbon award. Back in Barnesville, the rest of the school watched a livestream of the event. Of the six schools that represented Minnesota, the rural school was the only one outside the metro Twin Cities area.


“To know your school is one of the top ones in the U.S. is one of those ‘wow’ things. It’s one of those educator highlight moments, Gilbertson says.

Photo by U.S. Department of Education: Receiving the National Blue Ribbon School Award from Left to Right – Christine Messer, Kindergarten teacher at Barnesville Elementary; Aba Kumi, director of NBRS Program, U.S. Depart. of Education; Todd Henrickson, principal at Barnesville; Lisa Gilbertson, 4th Grade teacher at Barnesville

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