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Orange County

36 O.C. Schools Win State Award

Education: That number of Distinguished Schools tops all counties. Two districts take six each.


Three dozen Orange County schools won California Distinguished School designation Wednesday, more than any other county, including far more populous Los Angeles.

Among the awards were six each for the Capistrano and Saddleback Valley unified school districts.

"This is the highest number of distinguished schools we've ever had," said Jerry Gross, Saddleback Valley superintendent. "Typically, we only have two or three."

Irvine Unified and Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach won five each. For the small Ocean View district, that means one-third of its schools earned the designation.

"This validates the direction that we're heading--the direction the state is going in terms of accountability of student performance--and we support that," Ocean View Supt. James R. Tarwater said. "We're jubilant."

State education officials were unsurprised by Orange County's big share of the awards, in part because its schools are more likely to apply.

"Some of the districts like Capistrano and Saddleback submitted a lot of nominees," said Carol Kennedy, consultant for the California School Recognition Program, "and the school districts take a big role in the application process rather than just leaving it up to the individual schools, as in most other counties."

Thirty-four schools in Los Angeles County won the designation. San Diego followed with 28 distinguished schools.

The designation of schools as models of achievement is based on such factors as test scores, curriculum, teacher performance, use of technology and campus safety.

The 247 distinguished schools were selected from more than 700 applicants.

The California Distinguished Schools Program was established in 1985 and honors elementary and secondary schools in alternate years.

First-time winners said the hard work of their students and teachers paid off.

"We were ecstatic when we heard officially this morning," said Karen Merkow, principal of Anaheim Hills Elementary, where banners and balloons decorated the school's front entrance after Wednesday's announcement.

"It's not a one-year quick fix. It's been an ongoing process of teaching the state-adopted standards and including parents in the teaching process," said Merkow, who submitted an application that included a 13-page essay with documentation.

All California Distinguished Schools will be recognized May 24 at an awards ceremony and dinner at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

The full list of distinguished schools can be found on the California Department of Education's Web site at

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