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Tiny Catalina School Is Honored With Top State Award


Tiny Avalon Junior and Senior High School, which serves mostly low-income students on Santa Catalina Island, has received one of the state's top educational awards.

The school, which has an enrollment of 175, was named a distinguished school by the state Department of Education for its academic improvement.

State evaluators found that the number of students taking advanced courses, such as high-level mathematics and chemistry, has increased significantly in the last four years, that the requirements for graduation have been toughened and that student scores on California Assessment Program (CAP) tests have improved.

"It was very impressive," said Carol Kennedy, a member of the state evaluation team that visited the school. "There was lots of personal attention given to the students."

Kennedy is an evaluation and research consultant with the state Department of Education.

Avalon, which is part of the Long Beach Unified School District, was one of four Southeast-area schools to receive the state distinguished-school awards for 1989.

The other winners, announced April 13, are:

* Whitney High School, which has grades 7-12 and is one of five high schools in the ABC Unified School District in Cerritos. Students must take a rigorous placement examination; the school accepts about 125 students each year from several hundred applicants.

* Haskell Junior High School, also an ABC school.

* La Serna High School of the Whittier Union High School District.

The state selected 149 schools, including 17 in Los Angeles County, for outstanding student academic performance or significant educational improvement.

Such factors as CAP test scores, the number of students in advanced academic courses and attendance were considered.

The average CAP reading score for 12th-graders at Avalon, for example, increased to 260 in the last school year, from 222 in the 1987-88 school year. The average math score rose to 235, from 195 in the same period.

Principal Jon Meyer said the district has loyal students and a supportive community: "Our parents are involved. To pull a group of parent supporters together, all I need to do is make a phone call."

Meyer said about 90% of the school's 26 seniors plan to attend college next year. Nine of them plan to enroll in four-year colleges.

Meyer, 54, has been at the helm of the school for three years. He was formerly a history and anthropology teacher and athletic director at Wilson High in the Long Beach Unified School District.

There are 460 students attending kindergarten through high school grades at Avalon. Nearly 40% of them are Latino; most are from low-income backgrounds. Nearly 15% speak only limited English. Many of the students are from families that work in island hotels and restaurants.

Whitney's award--for academic performance--is the high school's second in three years. There are 980 students at the school. Whitney students have scored in the 99th percentile in all areas of the CAP tests for many years. Whitney usually ranks No. 1 or No. 2 in the state in CAP scores, often competing with Lowell High School in San Francisco for the top honor.

Haskell's award was also based on academic performance. Students' reading scores jumped from 281 in 1987-88 to 309 last year, while math scores improved from 292 to 307 in the same period. For 1988-89, statewide averages junior high schools for math were 269 and 256 for reading. There are 597 students at the school.

La Serna High School in Whittier won the award for the first time. In the state testing program, students scored in the 92th percentile in reading and 81th percentile in math.

Principal Leo Camalich said the award "will be an encouragement to our staff, community and students to continue to perform at a high level," he said. There are 1,700 students at La Serna.

A recognition ceremony to honor the schools will be held May 14 at the Anaheim Hilton and Towers Hotel.

The annual awards are part of the California School Recognition Program, begun by state schools Supt. Bill Honig. This is the fifth year of the awards program.

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