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Five local schools receive achievement awards

Posted: April 16, 2013 4:16 p.m.
Updated: April 16, 2013 4:16 p.m.

Student objectives are listed on a whiteboard as Krista Maynard leads her fourth-grade class at Rio Vista Elementary School in Canyon Country in August. Signal file photo by Jonathan Pobre

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Three local junior high and high schools have been named California Distinguished Schools in recognition of the programs they have in place to close the gap between low-achieving and high-achieving students, according to the California Department of Education.

Meantime, two local elementary schools — one in the Newhall and one in the Saugus Union school districts — also received awards announced Tuesday for programs that help boost students’ academic achievement.

The three schools to receive California Distinguished Schools awards for 2013 are Rancho Pico Junior High, Sierra Vista Junior High and Hart High School, all in the William S. Hart Union High School District.

“I am really proud of the efforts of staff at all three schools, which is truly indicative of all the good things happening across the district,” Hart Superintendent Rob Challinor said Tuesday.

Schools from around the state must apply for designation as a distinguished school. The process includes a written application that describes two of the school’s “signature practices” and a site review, during which officials visit the campus to see how those practices are carried out.

Schools are also judged based on how students perform on state standardized tests and school Academic Performance Index scores.

“As an educator, especially in a time when budgets are restricted and resources limited, something like this really recognizes and celebrates the hard work of every member of our staff at Rancho Pico,” said school Principal Erum Jones.

Jones said the school also received the designation in 2009. Schools are not eligible to apply for the recognition in consecutive award cycles, Jones said.

In terms of its “signature practices,” Rancho Pico chose to spotlight its intervention and teaming efforts, Jones said.

The school’s teaming efforts are meant to provide support for students as they transition into the new junior high environment from elementary school and prepare for high school, Jones said Tuesday.

This means providing emotional support to students along with academic support, Jones said.

As for intervention, Jones said Rancho Pico’s focus is on being proactive rather than reactive.

Some of these intervention programs include general academic assistance along with school-based support programs to try to help students avoid behaviors or habits that can lead to problems down the line.

“We’re looking for every opportunity to provide assistance to our students,” Jones said.

Intervention efforts were also spotlighted at Hart High School, according to Principal Collyn Nielsen.

Nielsen said the school has a mandatory component of its intervention program requiring students to go to homework help programs during lunchtime if they regularly fail to turn in their homework.

Hart also showcased its outreach to Spanish-language-speaking parents.

For this program, the school holds regular meetings to give information to Spanish-speakers and show them community resources available to them.

“We are very excited about this recognition,” Nielsen said Tuesday. “We feel it’s a validation of the great things happening at Hart and what a school we have.”

About 218 public middle and high schools around the state were named California Distinguished Schools this year, according to the Department of Education. Secondary and elementary schools receive the recognition in alternate years.

While elementary schools will have to wait until next year to vie for state designation, two local elementary schools have received Title I Academic Achievement Awards for their work in closing the achievement gaps between students, state officials announced Tuesday.

McGrath Elementary School in the Newhall School District and Rio Vista Elementary School in the Saugus Union School District were among 56 public schools statewide to receive the Title I award this year, according to a news release from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The award is given to schools that receive federal Title I funds. Title I is an educational program meant to give all students the same opportunities and resources to meet state educational standards and help low-achieving students meet those standards.

Isa De Armas, the principal of Rio Vista, said Tuesday this is the first time the school has received the award.

“All of our stakeholders have worked so hard, and we’re on cloud nine,” De Armas said. “I’m speechless.”

De Armas said Rio Vista has several programs in place geared to boost the performance of any student who needs academic support. She specifically named the school’s “Saturday academy,” which provides weekend tutoring, and after-school homework clubs.

“So in addition to what we do day in and day out, we’re looking at the best practices to help our students,” De Armas said.
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