When I started at Ed Trust, my first project was to sort and filter through states’ school-level achievement and demographic data. My mission: to find schools with sizable low-income and/or student of color populations that were outperforming their state. They would then be considered for our Dispelling the Myth Award, which we give to a few schools each year. A few months ago, after analyzing several states’ data, Brimley Elementary School made it onto the short list of schools that my colleagues would visit and vet for the award.
Brimley is a small rural school located in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula that is 53 percent American Indian and 59 percent low-income. And, until this month, to me the school was just numbers in an Excel file.
But as Brimley leaders stood on stage and accepted their Dispelling the Myth Award at our national conference, I finally connected the data I spent so much time with to the individuals and the practices that fueled Brimley’s improvement and success.
Talking with Pete Routhier, Brimley Elementary’s principal, and his staff was the highlight of my time at conference. I found their excitement contagious and was grateful to be a small part of their experience. Although humble and quick to remind me that they still had a lot of work to do, they expressed their appreciation of the opportunity to share their practices and to celebrate with staff back home. Routhier was surprised that his little school could be spotted from so far away. Looking at the row of posters celebrating current and past award-winners, he admitted he was a little embarrassed to see his words emblazoned in large print: We just do our thing — but it’s always research-based. He thought maybe he should have said something better, but his work has never been about the desire for outside recognition. Now outside of his school building, he realized that his mindset isn’t true of all educators, that his way of thinking is perhaps rarer than he thought, and that Brimley is something special.
Routhier and I snapped a photo together and parted ways, but meeting him and connecting a face with the data made my work and its importance come alive. My time with numbers and spreadsheets materialized into recognition for a school in a place that most probably wouldn’t go looking for success. Stories and lessons, like those from Brimley — a school which just does its thing, are what we hope to magnify and share with both educators and the public. They rightly signal that there are many ways to dispel myths and do well by all students.
For me, our conference was an opportunity to recognize the work and individuals beyond the numbers. Data are important, for sure — the data led us to Brimley and other successful schools worth learning from — but numbers can only tell us so much. It’s the educators and the students that make the work real, valuable, and rewarding. I was glad to be reminded of that.
Thank you, Brimley, for sharing your story, and I’m looking forward to cashing in that invitation to the U.P.!