Three Orange County schools have earned the country’s highest academic distinction as 2016 National Blue Ribbon Schools, the U.S. Department of Education has announced.

A.J. Cook Elementary School in the Garden Grove Unified School District, Francis Hopkinson Elementary School in the Los Alamitos Unified School District and Tustin Memorial Academy in the Tustin Unified School District are among 279 public schools and 50 private schools to earn the federal honor based on their overall academic excellence or the progress they’ve made to close achievement gaps among student subgroups.

national blue ribbon logo“National Blue Ribbon Schools are proof that we can prepare every child for college and meaningful careers, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. said in a video message announcing the honorees. “Your schools are on the cutting edge, pioneering innovative educational practices — professional learning communities, project-based learning, social and emotional learning, positive behavior systems — making you shining examples for your communities, your state and the nation.”

Throughout the program’s 34-year history, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Blue Ribbon status to fewer than 8,500 schools. (That’s out of nearly 100,000 public schools and about 30,000 private schools nationally.) This year’s winners include public and private elementary, middle and high schools from 42 states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Fort Benning, Georgia, Ramstein, Germany and Seoul, Korea.

A.J. Cook Elementary School

As one of 44 elementary schools in the Garden Grove Unified School District, A.J. Cook Elementary School supports the whole child with standards-based instruction and comprehensive interventions.

GGUSD is part of the California Office to Reform Education — or CORE — a consortium of large urban districts seeking to innovate, implement and scale successful strategies to support student success. According to Cook’s application, this collaboration was influential in creating a schoolwide growth mindset ready to embrace and effectively meet the challenges of the 21st century. Cook students are additionally afforded opportunities for technology leadership and enrichment. 

Francis Hopkinson Elementary School

Francis Hopkinson Elementary School is a three-time California Distinguished School with a long-standing reputation of providing rigorous and exemplary education for all learners.

One of nine schools in Los Alamitos Unified, Hopkinson seeks out innovative ways to improve the delivery of instruction with the goal of producing students who are college and career ready. The third- through fifth-grade teams are part of a 1:1 iPad program that integrates technology into instruction. Known for its excellent scores on standards tests, Hopkinson prioritizes critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity in every classroom.

Tustin Memorial Academy

Established as a school of choice in 1995, Tustin Memorial Academy serves a diverse student body that speaks 22 different languages.

As both a fundamental and Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) magnet school in Tustin Unified, the elementary school’s curriculum “encourages all students to become inquisitive learners and collaborators while grasping a wide variety of academic skills,” according to its Blue Ribbon application. Classrooms offer differentiated instruction and foster intellectual growth by encouraging higher-order thinking skills, problem solving, creativity and critical thinking. Tustin Memorial Academy also boasts a strong sense of community and parental involvement.

The U.S. Department of Education plans to formally honor all 329 campuses at an awards ceremony in Arlington, Va. on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8. 

The news release can be found here, and you can find additional program details on the department’s website. Oh, and here’s U.S. Education Secretary John King’s video announcement.