The two high schools do not appear to have very much in common.
Polytechnic High School and Whitney High School are 16 miles apart; Whitney is tucked away in suburban Cerritos and Poly is in inner-city Long Beach.
Security is tight on the 2,740-student Poly campus, where students show photo identification cards to enter. At the 947-student Whitney campus, students mainly use their ID cards to check out library books.
At Poly, the ringing of bells signals the beginning and end of classes. At Whitney, students are expected to get to class on time without the help of bells.
Poly, which has been around since the early 1900s, is overcoming a reputation as a "bad school," while Whitney has been praised continually for academic achievement in its 10-year history.
But Poly, in the Long Beach Unified School District, and Whitney, in the ABC Unified School District, were brought closer together last week when they were among 30 California high schools declared winners of the first Distinguished Schools Awards, given by the state Department of Education.
The awards are part of the California School Recognition Program, a project initiated by state schools Supt. Bill Honig to annually honor exceptional individuals, institutions and programs in the California educational system, said Susie Lange, public relations director for the Department of Education.
Honig said: "The awards are recognition for schools showing the most growth in testing and other achievements. We are not only rewarding schools for doing a good job but hopefully other schools will be motivated to strive for excellence."
Along with the 30 high schools, 60 middle or junior high schools and elementary schools were honored.
Walter F. Dexter Junior High in the Whittier City School District was the lone Southeast area junior high school selected for the award.
Seven of the high schools are in Los Angeles County, two in Orange County and three in San Diego County.
The distinguished schools were chosen from among the state's 1,500 junior high and middle schools and 800 high schools. Selection was based on a combination of factors including test scores, improvement of academic performance over the previous year, academic programs, extracurricular activities, educational atmosphere and parent involvement.
The schools had to finish in the top 20% academically or top 10% of the schools showing the most improvement.
School officials completed a 15-page application describing their schools' programs, and state and local educators visited the campuses as part of the selection process.
Whitney, which has grades 7 through 12 and is one of five high schools in the ABC district, gives its prospective students an entrance exam in the sixth grade. Of the 1,000 students who apply each year, the school accepts about 250.
Whitney students have scored in the 99th percentile in all areas of the California Assessment Program tests for the past three years. Their scores for the Scholastic Achievement Test in math and verbal skills, given to seniors throughout the nation, have ranked well above state and national averages.
"This is a validation of our program," said Robert S. Beall, the energetic and effusive principal of Whitney.
"We are a family here. We are a business also. We merchandise kids. We get them ready to go to the best colleges and universities in the country. We are dream makers.
"It is not a 'those damn kids' or an 'us-against-them' mentality. They realize we care about them," said Beall, 50, who has been the school's only principal since it opened 10 years ago.
Students come to Whitney from throughout the district, which includes Cerritos, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood and portions of Norwalk, La Mirada and Long Beach.
The school requires a "B" average for a student to participate in extracurricular activities. Beall said he is most proud of the achievements of some of the athletic teams at the Whitney, which does not have its own gymnasium but uses facilities of other schools.
As proof that "brains and athletics do go together," Beall said, the boys' varsity basketball team, which has a team grade-point average of 3.40, won the title in the small schools division of the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section.
The boy's basketball and tennis teams, as well as two student-athletes--Egene Tseitenberg and Heather Susan Stewart--were honored for academic excellence by the CIF, the California Angels and Ford Motor Co. during a special ceremony at Anaheim Stadium May 29 along with other student-athletes from Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Stewart, a 17-year-old senior with a 4.0 grade-point average, is as excited about the Distinguished School Award as she was about spiking the ball for the volleyball team or getting a hit for the softball team.