As of Monday, Dec. 9, the Pine River-Backus School District has achieved level 1 High Reliability Schools certification.

The High Reliability Schools certification has five different levels with level 1 being dedicated to “Safe, supportive and collaborative culture.”

“In order to get certified through HRS, it's a pretty rigorous process you can't do in a few months,” said Tina Hanneken, High Reliability Schools coordinator. “It takes time.”

The certification didn't require a lot of new changes for the district, Hanneken said. The district is already equipped with secure entryways at the high school and district office entrances and plans for emergencies. However, an audit of the district's preparation required documentation and proof of the district's safety and security.

“In order to do the certification we go through an audit,” Hanneken said. “This time we did a webinar with one of the professors of the HRS program. He interviewed each team member and asked questions to see if we could answer them, if we had data to support our position, if we have proof.”

Pine River-Backus is already working on level 2 certification, which recognizes “Effective teaching in every classroom.”

“Level 2 focuses more on curriculum and teacher learning communities,” Hanneken said.

Among the qualifications considered for level 2 are the school staff's continued professional development through things like in service training, workshops, webinars and other continued training opportunities. In addition to that, the district has to be re-audited for its level 1 certification at the same time it is being audited for level 2.

“This isn't a one and done,” Hanneken said. “Safe and collaborative will never be done. When we go for level 2 we have to prove level 1 is still in place, which we should. A good systems check doesn't mean we're done, it means it's continuing.”

Hanneken compared it to fire departments who spend a great deal of time checking and rechecking gear and training to ensure everything works properly long after everyone is certified. If the district goes for level 3, it will likewise be re-audited for levels 1 and 2 and so on. There are five levels of HRS certification. Hanneken said only time will tell how many levels PR-B will try for. Hanneken thinks the certification is a demonstration of the quality of local education, which could help draw students.

For level 2 certification Hanneken and staff are especially looking into the district's implementation of technology, not only in classes that have traditionally been linked to technology, but also career tech classes.

“Curriculum is something we address strongly. Improving our education is something we stress strongly and technology. Even though our technology is good in school, we need to keep up with not only what other schools are using but other tech schools and colleges,” Hanneken said. “Some of our kids going to tech schools are using not just welding equipment, but graphics and computers that are a step above. We're trying to stay a step ahead of that, so that might be something we need to take a look at.”

“One thing I think it opens up for our school is our motto is that we are a destination school,” Hanneken said. “That's our goal. We are a destination school and a destination community. I think proving we are a level one safe and collaborative school adds to our resume.”

Hanneken hopes the school district can become level 2 certified in the spring of 2020, though certification can take a while depending not only on preparation, but also on scheduling an HRS audit, which can be challenging.

Marzano Resources, the group that certifies HRS schools, has 300 schools nationwide that have achieved HRS Level 1 certification and only six in Minnesota (including Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes). There are three in the state with level 2 certification.