Mijares: OC’s Distinguished Schools leverage technology, collaboration and engaging instruction

After an extended hiatus, the California Distinguished Schools program is back.

This award, considered the top honor for California’s public schools, was put on hold for three years as our state overhauled its accountability system to incorporate a broader set of metrics. Following its return in April, 43 campuses across Orange County are now celebrating their status as newly minted California Distinguished Schools.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresIn all, 287 elementary schools in California earned the distinction in 2018, which means about 15 percent are in Orange County. That’s pretty remarkable considering we’re home to less than 7 percent of the state’s elementary schools, and it is without question a reflection of the commitment to innovation and educational excellence on the part of our teachers, staff, students and parents. 

Even if you’re not familiar with the California Distinguished Schools program, you’ve probably seen the logo that is often displayed on school campuses as a badge of honor. Yet the value of this program goes far beyond the emblem or even the pride that comes with earning such an accolade. It is also a way to highlight breakthrough educational strategies that can be replicated elsewhere throughout the state.

That’s because schools that pursue the Distinguished School title must agree in advance to share their signature practices so that other educators — and students — may benefit. And they’ll have plenty to choose from in Orange County alone. 

Let’s start with Murdy Elementary School, a California Distinguished School from the Garden Grove Unified School District. Murdy is reshaping its culture by embedding technology across all grades and content areas, ensuring students have the academic, personal and digital literacy skills they’ll need to thrive in the 21st century. Tablets, green screens, 3D printers — these are among the high-tech tools being used to stoke creativity and discovery, encouraging young minds to explore new ways of thinking.

About 15 miles away, Newport Coast Elementary in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District was recognized on the strength of its exemplary Positive Behavior Interventions and Support program, or PBIS for short. Offering multi-tiered interventions and incentives for making positive choices, Newport Coast has minimized the number of behavior-related issues, which in turn has made classroom instruction more effective and improved outcomes for all students. These results are backed up by district assessments, report card grades and teacher observations. 

At Crescent Elementary in the Orange Unified School District, officials have focused on teaching the whole child while embracing the school’s diversity as a strength. The school provides a strong, integrated curriculum that empowers students to take responsibility for their learning. Moreover, Crescent says its efforts to foster collaboration among stakeholders have made an impact on academic achievement, attendance, character and community-building. 

The list goes on of Orange County schools and their signature practices, which include leveraging technology, collaboration and engaging instruction to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students, ensuring they’re ready for college, careers and life. 

The California Distinguished Schools program may have taken a brief leave of absence, but Orange County schools never rested. Instead, they have steadily advanced on the path of continuous improvement, and the long-term benefits will far outweigh any accolade or logo.