Principal’s Corner: Certifying Southwest

Published 7:52 pm Friday, February 21, 2020

Principal’s Corner by Chris Dibble

Chris Dibble


School employees are constantly looking for initiatives to improve the instructional model we use with students. The best initiatives are driven by research that has been consistently proven over time to improve student performance. One of the leading firms that collects and disseminates these data driven practices is Marzano Resources, under the direction of education guru Dr. Robert Marzano. Dr. Marzano has spent 50 years researching and delivering best practices that educators can use to highly impact students on a daily basis.

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In the summer of 2019, about 25 Albert Lea Area Schools staff members attended the Marzano Resources High Reliability Schools Summit in Denver. The High Reliability Schools program is designed to systematically improve school by implementing strategies that focus on critical factors that influence school success. HRS moves participating schools through five levels of reform that drive permanent, positive and significant impacts.

All public schools in Albert Lea are currently focusing on level one, which is creating a safe, supportive and collaborative culture. Level one includes eight indicators, including staff, student and parent perceptions; formal decision making and input processes; the collaborative team environment of the school; and fiscal decisions that directly supports teaching. The best part of the HRS process is being able to not only recognize where school can improve, but also having the ability to see what the schools already do well and celebrate those successes.

On Jan. 31, Southwest Middle School staff presented evidence to a representative from Marzano Resources to become an HRS level one-certified school. After the 90-minute webinar, Southwest became the seventh school in Minnesota, and Albert Lea the fourth district in Minnesota, to be awarded this certification. This certification is possible due to the great work that teachers of Southwest put in on a daily basis to make students successful.

So, what next? Does this mean Southwest Middle School is perfect? Absolutely not. Level one certification requires us to collect data on a consistent basis and continually reflect on how to improve at all times. The initiatives that have been put in place to achieve the certification will allow the school to continuously improve on level one indicators as we move into levels two and three. Level two promotes effective teaching in every classroom, and level three provides strategies for a guaranteed and viable curriculum. For more information about the High Reliability Schools program, I invite you to visit 

All other public schools in Albert Lea are very close to presenting evidence to achieve level one certification. Staff members in all schools have been working collaboratively across the district to share ideas that help students directly. We look forward to celebrating our successes together as we work to make Albert Lea a great place to learn.

Chris Dibble is the principal at Southwest Middle School.