Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo has wired up more than 600 computers and 110 television monitors for in-house broadcasting and distance learning. It also prides itself on its extensive curriculum and having a staff that goes the extra mile in being helpful and accessible to students.
Those qualities helped earn the campus on the northwestern edge of Mission Viejo its first California Distinguished Schools award Tuesday. But it is Trabuco's exceptional arts program that earned it special distinction as the only school in Orange County--and one of only five schools statewide--to be designated for Excellence in Arts Education. The arts award was introduced last year, and was given to secondary schools for the first time this year.
"I just can't tell you how excited I am," Principal Ray Gatfield said. "There are so many teachers here that are so good and have worked so hard to make Trabuco a great place, and this is the first time we'd been able to break in to receive the recognition they deserve."
Trabuco Hills High was among 18 Orange County schools that received the California Distinguished School designation from the state Department of Education this year. Eligibility was based on each school's Academic Performance Index (API), and meeting certain conditions, including meeting or exceeding API growth targets and having a high participation rate in the Stanford 9 exam. Of approximately 600 applicants statewide, 157 nominees from 36 counties were selected for the award.
The annual award, which alternates between elementary and secondary schools, also is based on factors such as parental involvement, school safety and cleanliness.
Representatives of the Orange County Department of Education got up early Tuesday to post balloon-festooned signs on all 18 winning campuses.
Not that every student noticed the signs. At Trabuco Hills, assistant principal Dan Sullivan made sure everyone was aware of the award by noting it during morning announcements over in-house television.
That's how junior Susan Leary heard about it.
"It's actually kind of awesome," said Leary, 16, who said students in her history class broke into applause. "Everybody was like, "Whoa! That's cool.' " Leary, who takes advanced placement and honors classes, is particularly pleased.
"Now when I apply at colleges, I can say I go to a Distinguished School," Leary said. "It makes it sound prestigious."
At Trabuco, the arts program includes both visual arts (art, ceramics, computer graphics, television production) and performing arts (drama, instrumental music, choral music and dance).
"That group [of teachers] has a passion about their program and that passion is recognized by this award," Gatfield said.
It wasn't long ago, Gatfield said, "when somebody from the county Department of Education came out to visit us on the issue of technology. She said Trabuco Hills has to be one of the greatest-kept secrets in Orange County. And it's because we have so many great things going on and as a fairly young school--we're only 15 years old--we haven't been one of the names people kick around. But now we're coming into our own."
Trabuco Hills was one of five campuses in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District to earn the award this time. Four campuses in the Capistrano Unified School District were honored, and three in the Ocean View School District.
One county winner, Shorecliffs Middle School in the Capistrano Unified School District, was initially told it had not garnered enough points to merit a site visit, a prerequisite to an award.
Donald Mahoney, its principal, appealed the ruling. The state rescored the application and sent someone to evaluate the school.
Teachers and students were overjoyed when the state decided the school deserved the award after all. Shorecliffs was chosen as a distinguished school once before, in 1996, Mahoney said.
Times staff writer Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.
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California Distinguished Schools
Here are the winners from Orange County:
Buena Park School District
* Buena Park Junior High School
Capistrano Unified School District
* Bernice Ayer Middle School
* Las Flores Middle school
* Marco Forster Middle School
* Shorecliffs Middle School
Fountain Valley School District
* Samuel E. Talbert Middle School
Fullerton Joint Union High School District
* Sonora High School
Los Alamitos Unified School District
* Oak Middle School
Newport-Mesa Unified School District
* Ensign Intermediate School
Ocean View School District
* Marine View Middle School
* Mesa View Middle School
* Vista View Middle School
Saddleback Valley Unified School District
* El Toro High School
* Mission Viejo High School
* Rancho Santa Margarita Intermediate School
* Serrano Intermediate School
* Trabuco Hills High School
Westminster School District
* Willis Warner Middle School
Source: O.C. Dept. of Education