Local high school district gets 'double-dose' of positive news from state education department

By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore Middle College High School was named a "California Distinguished School" by the California Department of Education this week. The high school district earned "Exemplary Status."
Lemoore Middle College High School was named a "California Distinguished School" by the California Department of Education this week. The high school district earned "Exemplary Status."
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The Lemoore Union High School District this week received a double-dose of good news. One of its schools – the Lemoore Middle College High School -  earned perhaps California's top award for excellence on Feb. 27 when the state’s education department named it a California Distinguished School.

What makes a California distinguished school? It's a state program honoring the state's most exemplary and inspiring public schools. According to the California Department of Education, a Distinguished School is defined as one that demonstrates significant gains in narrowing the achievement gap. Multiple measures are used to determine a California Distinguished school.

The second dose of good news?

The Lemoore Union High School District learned that it had attained "Exemplary District" status, based on what the state says is the work being done to support its students. The Lemoore High School District is the only Kings County district to attain the designation in 2019.

This special honor is the first year that California recognized exemplary districts that have at least one school listed on the Distinguished Schools Eligibility List for 2019. This Exemplary District Award celebrates the achievements of districts that have implemented model practices that have had a positive impact on student outcomes.

"I would like to commend these schools for fighting for a better future for our students, closing achievement gaps, and improving academic performance," said California State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond. "Thanks to teachers, administrators, classified employees, and parents working together, these schools meet the needs of all of their students, provide high-quality educational experiences, and put kids on a pathway to great careers."

It turns out that the Distinguished School program was on a three-year pause while California transitioned to a new assessment and accountability system, which California tends to do every few years.

Schools that applied were eligible based on their performance and progress on the state indicators as described on the California School Dashboard indicators include test scores, suspension rates, and graduation rates.

The California School Dashboard contains reports that highlight the performance of schools, and student groups on a set of state and local measures to assist in identifying strengths, challenges, and areas in need of improvement.

Lemoore's Middle College High School, located on the West Hills Community College Lemoore campus, has a total enrollment this year of about 230 students and employs 16 teachers. The school began 13 years ago and students, in addition to earning a high school diploma can work towards a community college AA degree.

"Last year we had 14 students earn their AA degree," said fifth-year principal, Chuck Gent. "This year I think we'll have even more."

To say that the Middle College High School has a student body of over-achievers might be an understatement. The tiny school – competing against Kings County's comprehensive high schools – recently captured its seventh Academic Decathlon title in a row, one of the top scoring small schools in California. "They (students) have a legitimate chance of making it to the national (Academic Decathlon) national competition," said Gent.

Gent told The Leader that recently that the state – based on Middle College's statewide performance on the California Dashboard – was invited to apply for Distinguished Schools status. "We met the thresholds and were invited to apply," said Gent. "We were just notified yesterday (Feb. 27) that we were selected. We were awarded the Distinguished School Award."

The application? "We had to submit a narrative on what the middle college program is all about and how our students are performing on tests, graduation rate, student performance in college, and more. All those things are tracked," said Gent.

A California School Recognition Program Awards Ceremony is scheduled for April 5, 2019, at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim where Lemoore Middle College School and others in California will be honored for their recently earned status as Distinguished Schools.

Joining Principal Gent at the ceremony will likely be District Superintendent Debbie Muro and at least two board members. While they will attend on the basis of the district's Middle College School, they'll be there for the district for its selection as an "Exemplary District."

"We are very proud of Lemoore Middle College High School once again being recognized as a California Distinguished School," said Muro. "We are very proud of the efforts of our staff, students and their parents to ensure that our students have all of the support that they need to be successful."

When notified that the Lemoore Union High School District was eligible for exemplary district status, Muro told The Leader that district officials put together a narrative highlighting a variety of services and programs implement over the past five years designed to support students, everything from Positive Behavior Interventions to social-emotional support for student, programs for foster youth, and gang resistance and intervention programs. 

Other services include a comprehensive high school (LHS), the middle college school, an online program, a credit recovery continuation high school (Jamison High) and an adult school.

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