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State Honors 192 Schools as Distinguished

Among the honorees are two from L.A. Unified that had been labeled under-performing.

April 20, 2005|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

Not so long ago, Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda and Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School in Northridge shared an unenviable distinction: Both had been officially branded as under-performing schools.

On Tuesday, having shed that stigma, they rejoiced in a new designation as California Distinguished Schools, among 192 middle and high schools in the state so honored by state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

"We're on cloud nine," said Alan Weiner, the principal at Cleveland, which exemplifies both the challenges and untapped potential of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In all, six L.A. Unified schools were among those designated as distinguished -- hardly a sweep for the state's largest district, with 750,000 students and more than 130 middle and high schools. The much smaller San Ramon Valley Unified School District in the San Francisco Bay Area, with just 21,000 students and 10 middle and high schools, had seven of them on the distinguished list, more than any other district in the state.

The California Distinguished School designation is based on a variety of criteria intended to measure academic success. Schools not only must raise the test scores that form the basis of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but also must do so among all major racial and ethnic groups. The schools further must demonstrate that they are safe and foster "healthy behaviors" in students.

Secondary schools are chosen for the distinction every other year, alternating with elementary schools.

This year, 463 schools had test scores that made them eligible to apply for the honor. Of those, 288 applied and roughly two-thirds of those were chosen. Mary Gomes, a consultant for the California School Recognition Program, said not all schools want to take the considerable time and effort to apply, particularly if they are in the midst of some other form of assessment or accreditation.

Predictably, many of the schools chosen this year are in relatively affluent communities and don't confront the challenges facing poor, urban schools. The San Ramon district, which serves wealthy bedroom communities in Contra Costa County, teaches predominantly white, affluent students who are native English speakers. Fewer than 300 students in the district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch -- many times fewer than could be found in a typical urban high school.

By contrast, several of the L.A. Unified distinguished schools, including Cleveland High and Holmes Middle School, reflect the difficult realities of public education in much of urban America. Roughly two-thirds of Cleveland's student body and more than half of Holmes' are classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged. Both schools are predominantly Latino and have a significant percentage of English-language learners.

Until two years ago, Cleveland was designated as under-performing under No Child Left Behind. Holmes had been similarly designated by the state about five years ago, when it qualified for a $350,000 grant to improve its academic performance.

Both schools improved test scores dramatically and had particular success among Latino students, raising their scores under the 1,000-point Academic Performance Index by more than 100 points in three years.

"It's a team effort," said Barbara Mecka, principal at Holmes. "Having a vision that students can learn, supporting what happens in the classroom, raising expectations."

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Southern California school districts listed by county and the schools that have been designated as distinguished:

Los Angeles County

ABC Unified

Martin B. Tetzlaff Middle

Alhambra Unified

Mark Keppel High

Antelope Valley Union High

Highland High

Covina-Valley Unified

Northview High

South Hills High

Traweek Middle

Culver City Unified

Culver City High

Downey Unified

West Middle

El Monte City Elementary

Durfee School

Garvey Elementary

Richard Garvey Intermediate

Glendale Unified

Anderson W. Clark Magnet High

Crescenta Valley High

Hacienda La Puente Unified

Los Altos High

Las Virgenes Unified

Arthur E. Wright Middle

Calabasas High

Long Beach Unified

Charles Evans Hughes Middle

Hill Classical Middle

Wilson Classical High

Los Angeles Unified

Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High

Grover Cleveland High

Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle

Palisades Charter High

Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies

The Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies

Monrovia Unified

Clifton Middle

Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified

Palos Verdes High

Redondo Beach Unified

Nick G. Parras Middle

Rowland Unified

John A. Rowland High

Rincon Intermediate

San Marino Unified

Huntington Middle

San Marino High

Torrance Unified

Bert M. Lynn Middle

Calle Mayor Middle

West High

Walnut Valley Unified

Diamond Bar High

South Pointe Middle

Walnut High

West Covina Unified

West Covina High

Wiseburn Elementary

Richard Henry Dana Middle

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Orange County

Anaheim Union High

Oxford Academy

Western High

Capistrano Unified

Dana Hills High

Don Juan Avila Middle

Las Flores Middle

Tesoro High

Fullerton Joint Union High

Fullerton High

Sunny Hills High

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