After 35 years as an educator, Stanley O. Steddom, principal of Cerritos High School, is retiring with a smile.
About 10 miles away at Schurr High School in Montebello, principal James Douglas is also sporting a wide grin.
Their schools are among the 16 in Los Angeles County chosen as the best in the state for 1988.
"It is a nice way to go out. They could have kicked me in the pants," said Steddom, 61.
Schurr, which is in the Montebello Unified School District, and Cerritos, in the ABC Unified School District, were among 124 schools chosen by the state Department of Education for outstanding student academic performance or for significant educational improvement.
The schools were rated in 16 areas, such as students' standard achievement test scores, number of students enrolled in academic courses, the quality of curriculum offerings and general school climate.
Schurr was given the award for performance. Half of the seniors, for example, scored in the 98th percentile on the mathematics portion of the Scholastic Achievement Test in the last school year, Peterson said, meaning that those students outscored all but 2% of those taking the test statewide. In the verbal skills segment, 45% scored in the 97th percentile.
Cerritos won the award because of improvement. Students' average math scores in the California Assessment Program tests, for example, climbed from 68% to 73% in the last three school years. The CAP tests in reading and math are given annually to seniors. Steddom and Douglas cite the same factors for their schools' success: teachers, students and parents who care and contribute.
"Parents give us good support," Douglas said. "They raise about $20,000 yearly through the athletic and band booster clubs." About $10,000 of the money will go to buy a video camera for the school.
Steddom said the Parent, Teacher, Student Assn. at Cerritos also raises about $20,000 annually.
"And it is all returned to the school to help us with special events, such student trips," he added.
Both principals said they look for highly motivated teachers.
"I like people who are different on my staff," Steddom said. "I look for people who are a bit eccentric. If they interest me (during job interviews) as people, they will interest the kids. They will motivate the students."
He looks for people who have interests outside their professions. He said that reveals a creative streak.
Chemistry teacher, Rod Ziolkowski, 31, was hired by Steddom. He is 6-foot-6, 160 pounds, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a degree in organic chemistry--and a professional actor who has appeared in several TV commercials.
During a recent chemistry class, attentive students huddled around as Ziolkowski explained an experiment. Then he asked them questions, and hands shot up in the air. A student supplied the correct answer.
"Great! That's the kind of thinking we should be doing in here," shouted Ziolkowski, banging his hand on a table to show his pleasure. The students giggled.
After a busy day in class, Ziolkowski moves to the stage to teach students. He recently helped a group of Cerritos students produce "Voices From Home," an original play based on the Vietnam War Memorial.
"People mistakenly think people trained in the sciences are not emotional or creative. They are," said Ziolkowski, almost shedding tears as he talked about the production of "Voices From Home."
"It is about relationships. It says you must communicate now with your loved ones, your friends. You don't know what the future will bring. There might be a Vietnam War, and you could be killed."
Ziolkowski also produced "The Harvard Man," a play written by senior John Kang, 18, and his brother, Peter, 16, a sophomore.
"This is what makes Cerritos a great school," said John Kang, who has a 3.73 grade average and has been accepted by UC Berkeley where he will major in political science. "It is more than just academics. You have teachers who care for you as a person."
At Schurr, they sing the same refrain.
Corrine Yu, a senior who will major in electrical engineering at Cal Poly Pomona said: "Teachers spend a lot of time beyond their normal duties with the students. Some of them practically live at the school."
Teacher Lorrie Wellenstein--who teaches advanced courses in algebra, American literature and is the adviser to the student newspaper, "Spartan Scroll"--receives high praise from the students.
Senior Vivian Garcia, 18, said: "I think she (Wellenstein) is a good teacher because she values our opinions. She doesn't talk down to us. She listens. We can disagree."
Students who go off to Yale, Harvard, UC Berkeley, USC, Cal Poly Pomona and other universities send their college pennants back; Wellenstein hangs them on her classroom walls.
"This is inspirational," said Wellenstein, 36. "It encourages the students to travel beyond Montebello."
While both schools stress academics, they also try to balance or blend them with athletics, vocational courses and extracurricular activities.