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Monday night Marshall held its annual “Pride in Excellence” event to celebrate academic achievement at Marshall.

Students were vetted for accomplishments in the classroom as well as academic-oriented clubs and activities.

As our Board President Jim Jarocki said in his welcoming comments: It is well understood in Duluth that many choose our school because of its welcoming academic atmosphere. As the saying goes: “It is OK to be smart at Marshall.”

In a wider cultural climate that can often celebrate ignorance, this alone can make Marshall worth the price of admission.

However, Monday night we celebrated something larger than just individual accomplishments.

As a group, the Marshall community came together to celebrate excellence. As an organization, we promote a challenging curriculum. We believe in hard work and risk taking. In the past few years alone, our faculty has spent time recalibrating our honors courses to make them even more challenging. This is against a trend, reported even this morning in the New York Times, of a “dumbing down” of honors courses nationally.

Our state and country are facing some challenging times – politically, economically, socially. Any answer, we all know, must involve improvements in education – though many currently doubt that we are up to the challenge:

  • America in decline. In the most recent (2009) OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, the United States continued to score in the middle of the pack among the world’s largest and/or fastest growing economies, bested by Shanghai-China, Korea, Finland, Canada, Japan, and Australia – among others.
  • Teachers under fire. Seven states are currently mulling bills to strip public school teachers of their collective bargaining rights. The mayor in Providence, Rhode Island recently fired all his city’s teachers.
  • Educational spending slashed. Recent estimates indicate that the latest Minnesota budget bill will cut $1.7M from the Duluth Public Schools over the next two years. Minnesota spending on education, per $1,000 in personal income, had already dropped from 21st in the country in 1996 to 41st by 2005.

This comes at exactly the time when future Minnesota jobs will require more education than ever. By 2018, the state will rank 5th in the nation in the number of jobs that will require at least a Bachelor’s degree, this against a backdrop of declining funding for K-12 education.

The importance of Marshall’s pride in excellence has never been more important.

In the 2009 Nation’s Report Card, only 13% of students across the US completed what was defined as a rigorous high school curriculum – the type of program that the majority of Marshall students take every year. The same study found that students who took a rigorous course load were better prepared for college and beyond.

This was certainly the message of our faculty speaker, Nate Mattson, who spoke passionately Monday night about the friends and teachers in his life who challenged him to try harder and stretch himself — to see a potential he was not always able to see in himself. This is something he now sees regularly happening for students in the halls and classrooms of our school.

Thankfully, our pride in excellence happens more than just one night a year!