How 11 OC middle and high schools earned their ‘distinguished’ designation

Last week, the California Department of Education announced the selection of 11 Orange County campuses as California Distinguished Schools.

The recognition has long been considered the top honor for public schools in the state, and 2021 is no exception. Amid the backdrop of uncertainty and hardship facing all California schools, this designation is particularly meaningful.

Working to ensure it provided a 2021 California Distinguished Schools program that recognized the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the CDE did not require schools to submit an application for consideration. Rather, honorees were chosen based on criteria including test scores, suspension rates and climate. This year’s winners were recognized for their work in closing the achievement gap and top-notch student performance.

We figured there was no one better to share their distinguished practices than the schools themselves, so the OCDE Newsroom staff went directly to the source. Here are their responses:

Anaheim Union High School District

Oxford AcademyOxford Academy_AUHSD
“The Reflective Learning Walk is an initiative from the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) that Oxford Academy has adapted to the needs of their community. We have had: teacher learning walks, technology learning walks, student-shadow learning walks, parent learning walks, and most recently virtual parent learning walks. The latter version of this event is led by the principal, who outlines the purpose of the walk, structure for a non-bias reflection, and a neutral evidence-based discussion. The purpose is for parents to increase their awareness of the virtual classroom, observe the implementation of the National Standards for Quality Online Teaching and Learning, and the adaptation of the district’s 5C’s (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and character/compassion) in a virtual setting. The principal takes the participants through virtual classroom visits by sharing her screen so that parents can make their observations. Using their discoveries, the group discusses implications for student learning. They also obtain tools to be able to support their students by replicating a similar learning environment at home. Lastly, parents have expressed feeling empowered to advocate for their students and a closer connection to the school because they feel the event was well worth the time.”

Capistrano Unified School District

Ladera Ranch Middle School
“At Ladera Ranch Middle School, we believe we were selected because of our Exceptional Student Performance. Our entire staff takes ownership of ALL students. We believe that when we come together as a staff and assume the responsibility (and the privilege) of looking after all the children, academic achievement increases, suspensions and absenteeism rates decline, and students feel connected and supported on campus. At LRMS, this is a team effort that continues to involve all staff members. We are very proud to be recognized.”

Fullerton School District

Parks Junior High
“Parks Junior High is proud of its tradition of academic excellence and a student body that promotes kindness, inclusivity, and belonging. Parks Panthers are provided a number of ways that they can get involved at school, including clubs, Leadership, after school sports, and nationally award winning programs such as speech and debate. Parks JHS is a school that promotes the whole child and parents/guardians are encouraged to get involved, as well, by participating in PTSA, School Site Council, volunteering to chaperone dances, and attending Back to School Night, Conferences, and Open House. The mission of Parks Jr. High School is to foster a respect for community and appreciate personal responsibility while providing for optimal intellectual, social, physical, and emotional growth. Every student is capable of success and Parks JHS staff understands the importance of working together as a team in order to help our students achieve their full potential.”

Garden Grove Unified School District

Bell Intermediate School
“At Bell Intermediate, we believe that students need high expectations in both academics and social-emotional learning (SEL). Teachers use proven strategies to help students excel academically including the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) Model which ensures that students receive objectives before and after a lesson is presented. Teachers model and engage students in guided practice and collaborative groupwork before assigning independent work. Over the past several years, Bell has implemented an instructional focus on literacy to support students in thinking, speaking, and writing like a disciplinarian in each content area. As part of our compassionate response to the impact of COVID-19, Bell has expanded our social emotional learning practices. Each month, we focus on a different Social Emotional Skill like empathy building and social awareness. These practices are rooted in our commitment to supporting the whole child and equipping all students with the academic and personal skills for lifelong success.”

Irvine Intermediate SchoolIrvine Intermediate School
“Irvine Intermediate is extremely proud of our teachers and students who make our school extraordinarily special! Throughout the past several years, there has been a dedicated focus on active speaking and listening strategies across the curriculum. Students have the opportunity, using teacher-provided supports, to daily practice the language using academic English in each class, while teachers give immediate support and corrective feedback. When students have an opportunity to speak about the content they are learning, their understanding of the content deepens. Our students are learning to speak like historians, scientists, musicians, athletes, mathematicians, and scholars! Schoolwide, we have seen an increase in students’ confidence, ability, and performance.”

McGarvin Intermediate School
“McGarvin Intermediate School’s entire community continues its strong tradition of excellence despite the challenges faced during these unprecedented times in our world. With those challenges in mind, our school community is hard at work participating in teaching and learning activities that emphasize academic and personal skill growth in a manner that highlights the characteristics in our school motto, ‘W.I.S.E: Welcoming, Improving Every Day, Socially Aware and Ethical.’ In fact, at the beginning of this school year, these very characteristics and practices earned McGarvin recognition from the California PBIS Coalition for its ‘outstanding contribution for support and care during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.’ Therefore, with our school motto, district goals, and effective instructional practices in the forefront, we set out each day to academically challenge, intellectually stimulate, and personally develop our students. As a result, our entire McGarvin community of ‘WISE’ Owls continue to soar to new heights, and confidently meet all challenges that come our way!”

Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District

Kraemer Middle School
“Kraemer Middle School thrives by putting students first with a focus on innovation and inclusion. The school’s team prioritizes connecting with students by knowing their name, face, and story. By focusing on relationships first, Kraemer engages learners to reach their highest potential. They provide opportunities for extended enrichment and intervention through their signature P.R.I.D.E. Program (Personal Responsibility for Individual Development and Education). As an AVID National Demonstration School, every teacher practices research-based instructional strategies alongside a rigorous academic curriculum to meet the needs of all learners. Kraemer takes great pride not only in serving a very diverse student body, but also in being one of the only GATE Magnet, Title 1, and AVID National Demonstration middle schools in the entire county.”

Tuffree Middle School
“The core values of respect, responsibility, and teamwork are the cornerstones of Tuffree Middle School. Tuffree is committed to teaching students how to have a ‘Growth Mindset’ and to live a ‘212 Degree’ lifestyle. In essence, Tuffree teaches their students to tackle challenges because they understand that learning takes effort. They don’t give up when things get difficult. Tuffree students take risks, participate in class, and understand that mistakes are normal when people try difficult things. Teachers, classified staff, and administrators teach them that one degree of extra effort could mean all the difference between good and great! Tuffree’s motto is ‘Be Kind, Work Hard,’ which sums up the school’s high expectations in just four words. Tuffree’s school-wide AVID program and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports have transformed their campus into a safe and structured, yet creative environment. The school’s fantastic teachers prepare students with skills that are critical to success in high school, college, and the global workforce.”