Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Students at North Star Elementary School in Redwood City participate in the Workshop Education after-school program. The school was named one of 14 distinguished schools in the county.
Fourteen elementary schools in San Mateo County are among the recipients of this year’s California Distinguished School Awards, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson recently announced.
The California Distinguished Schools Program recognizes individual schools for innovative approaches to providing both equitable and rigorous education. The award honors schools that have demonstrated educational excellence for all students and who have made significant progress in narrowing the achievement gap. Eligible elementary schools were invited to participate. Schools in the Daily Journal coverage area included Nesbit Elementary School in Belmont, North Hillsborough and East Hillsborough elementary schools, North Star Academy in Redwood City, Portola Elementary in San Bruno and College Park Elementary in San Mateo. All of Millbrae’s elementary schools received the designation.
This is the first time Meadows Elementary School in Millbrae received the recognition. It was recognized for two signature practices, its English language arts instruction by implementing professional learning communities and driving student learning through collaboration.
“This is big for them,” said Superintendent Linda Luna. “They’ve tried before. They’ve been working really hard and shown the most growth academically.”
The awards are especially important for the district this year given the district’s turmoil over the resignation of Taylor Middle School principal Lesley Martin and complaints over district climate, said Luna.
“Through a hard year, we really want to celebrate the ongoing hard work of our teachers, staff and leadership,” she said. “Bumpy roads equal growth for us. The hard work of our staff really pays off.”
Millbrae’s Spring Valley Elementary School received the award for improving English language arts instruction by fostering a professional learning community, improving school climate and bridging the gap through character education. Recent principal Vahn Phayprasert, now assistant superintendent of Educational Services, said he was excited to get the invitation to apply to be a distinguished school.
“What we’ve learned is some of our subgroups did a really good job in the state assessment,” he said. “This is just an icing on the cake. We were rewarded because our student achievement has risen.”
It’s important to Belmont’s Nesbit Elementary School because it’s recognition of the extensive amount of work that the school has done to close the achievement gap, said Principal Robin K. Pang-Maganaris. The school was recognized for equity in instruction through intentional differentiation, along with program instruction coherence through professional development and collaboration by sending teachers to Columbia University for reading and writing workshops, along with some training from the San Mateo County Office of Education.
“We’ve spent the past three years revitalizing ourselves,” she said. “It’s just lovely to get confirmation from the state of California as well.
Students at Nesbit face extra challenges as its population is different from the rest of the Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District, with 30 percent of children living at the poverty line and 30 percent being English language learners. This is compared to other schools in the district that have about 5 percent of students in each of these demographics, she said.
“At the same time, our children are still vibrant, dynamic learners,” she said.
The award recognizes elementary and secondary schools during alternate years.
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