Rancho Pico Junior High was named a California Distinguished School Wednesday by the state Department of Education. The Stevenson Ranch school was one of 261 schools – 136 middle schools and 125 high schools – for the honors. Schools competed on the basis of academic achievement, helping students succeed and “signature” practices that set them apart.
“We’re so excited,” said Rancho Pico Principal Michele Krantz. “We’re hyperfocused on students learning and we have an amazing team here on campus.”
She explained that the criteria has changed for the designation, requiring testing score improvement as well as closing achievement gaps between different groups.
“They were also looking for schools doing programs that we believed were responsible for student improvement that could be used as a resource for other schools,” Krantz said. “We showed them our teaming and our intervention programs.”
While team teaching is standard practice at the junior high level, Krantz said that at Rancho Pico, teachers have succeeding in getting parents involved in curriculum-based activities that strengthen the student learning experience.
“The teams are so strong,” she said. “It’s not so much what they do academically, but they’re doing activities that really make a difference. It’s relationship building. They go to museums, go on hikes, have sleepovers here on campus. It’s pooling expertise to everyone’s advantage.”
Krantz said that school day intervention programs also made a difference in students’ achievement. Using a 23 minute study block to provide specialized instruction twice a week, they were able to improve the whole student instead of focusing on test scores.
“We worked with students whose classroom grades didn’t exactly match what they did on the test,” she explained. “We were making sure that the tests really were a reflection of what they could do; we asked them to take a harder look at what certain questions were asking them. This isn’t just a testing method, this is a lifelong skill, and it will help them in high school, on the SATs and college entrance exams, as well as job applications in the future.”
Krantz got the official notification over the phone from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. Because the call came in on April Fool’s day, she asked a couple of teachers to listen to the call with her to make sure it was real.
This morning, she showed students a video “re-creation” of the phone call announcement. She will receive the school’s formal recognition at a May 29 ceremony at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.
Golden Valley High School and Arroyo Seco Junior High earned the California Distinguished School designation in 2007, the last time the awards were granted to high schools and middle schools. Hart District schools which have received the designation in the past include Placerita and Sierra Vista junior high schools and Canyon and Saugus high schools.
“California Distinguished Schools must meet the challenge of providing all their students with a rigorous education and to fully prepare today’s students for success in postsecondary education or the workforce,” said O’Connell. “In an increasingly competitive global economy, it is important that the academic success of all of today’s students is directly linked to the effectiveness, competitiveness, and resiliency of our not-too-distant future workforce.
“In addition, these extraordinary middle and high schools have shown they are able to increase the achievement of all their students and have provided evidence that they are closing the achievement gaps that, unfortunately, exist at many schools. The Distinguished Schools program always identified schools that are leaders in academic achievement. It now also recognizes schools that are leaders in helping all students succeed, and highlights the best practices that are effective in closing the gap.”
Rancho Pico opened in 2004 and currently has just under 1,000 students.
“This is certainly a testament to the focus on instruction within out entire school community that provides the necessary support and intervention in order to afford all students the opportunity to be successful,” said Superintendent Jaime Castellanos. “On behalf of the Board of Education and the Hart School District, we are extremely proud of this achievement by Rancho Pico.”