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Pete Red Tomahawk, vice chair of the Solen School Board, left, holds up a trophy the schools received for improving their graduation rate at a ceremony held at the Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships & Relationships event at the Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck on Thursday morning. Seated looking on are from left, Lucy Fredericks, director of Indian Multicultural Education at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent of schools, Justin Fryer, superintendent of Solen School District, Jenna Feldman, principal of Solen High School.

Two schools on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation have been recognized by the state and nationally for improving student achievement.

Solen High School has increased its graduation rates by 10 percent in two years — from 35.7 percent in 2016 to 45.5 percent this year.

"That's unheard of," State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said.

Cannon Ball Elementary School and Solen High School are two of 100 federally funded schools throughout the country that showed "exceptional student achievement" this year and were recognized by the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators' Distinguished Schools Program.

Baesler acknowledged the schools Thursday at the Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships and Relationships Conference in Bismarck.

Since taking office in 2012, Baesler said it has been her mission to increase the graduation rates of Native American students, which was at 67.3 percent last year.

"The state average (graduation rate) gets us a lot of accolades because we're one of the highest in the nation," she said, but low rates among Native American students, although improving in recent years, are "not OK."

The overall graduation rate for Native American students continues to climb in North Dakota, with preliminary results showing that it's increased to 72 percent this year, according to Baesler.

In an attempt to improve academic achievement, Solen High School has teacher mentors students can choose to work with to help them with school, according to a news release from the state Department of Public Instruction. The high school also has created opportunities for students to earn college credit and expanded its career and technical education offerings to include automotive repair and welding.

At the conference on Thursday, Pete Red Tomahawk, vice president of the Solen School Board, said he's pleased with the success the schools have seen. The school district was also recently awarded $5.6 million in federal funds to build a new elementary school, the first new school built in the district in about 80 years.

"Just like all other schools across the state, we have challenges," Red Tomahawk said. "We just need to continue to work together."

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith at the conference thanked school teachers and administrators for their efforts.

"Achievements like this (are) awesome," Faith said. "It's needed."

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter