Fab Four: Harmony, Pioneer, Carl Smith, Monache distinguished

What could those at Harmony Magnet Academy, Monache High School, Pioneer Middle School and Carl Smith Middle School about where they're going on May 3: “We're going to Disneyland!”

That's the reward for the four Porterville area schools who were among the 253 schools who were announced as California Distinguished Schools on Friday. It's believed to be unprecedented that the Porterville area has had four schools recognized as Distinguished Schools in the same year, with three of the schools being Porterville Unified School District Schools. The four schools were also the only schools in Tulare County honored.

“I literally cried in my office when I read the email,” Monache principal Eric Barba said.

California Distinguished Schools will be honored during an awards ceremony on May 3 at the Disneyland Hotel.

“It's truly an honor for Monache High School to be selected as a California Distinguished School,” Barba said. “We have great students here. They are the reason why we come to work every day.

“It's an honor to serve our students and community. I have to commend our staff at every rank that has worked tirelessly to make Monache a better place for students to learn and thrive in a safe and nurturing school community.”

Schools were honored through data on the state's 2023 dashboard that was analyzed. Schools that showed a focus on demonstrating excellence and growth in academic achievement while ensuring a positive school climate were honored. Schools were recognized for achieving exemplary performance in English and math, reducing suspensions and for high schools having high graduation rates.

Schools with an enrollment of at least 40 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged students were also recognized for closing the achievement gap and showing accelerated academic growth for historically underserved students.

Information on the 2023 Dashboard is provided at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/cm/index.asp

Barba said staff focused on all students and students with disabilities. “Distance from standard” on the CAASPP test was evaluated when selection Distinguished Schools.

Monache had a growth of 5.3 points in English, surpassing the state goal of 3 points. Where Monache really shined was in math in which it showed a 12.4 point improvement, well above the state goal of 3 points.

“These are big gains proving some of our most struggling students are making academic gains,” Barba said. “We also saw a huge reduction in suspensions.”

Barba attributed the reduced suspensions to the school's Multi-Tiered Systems of Support to focus on the root cause of disciplinary problems as opposed to suspending them.

Monache hired Comprehensive Support Intervention Specialists Shane Sanchez and Gabriela Carbajal who need to be worked with on a 1-on-1 basis daily or weekly.

“Our counselors have spent a great deal of time supporting students with socio-emotional learning challenges,” Barba said. “Counselors are out every day at lunch helping with supervision and available for students just to walk up to them to chat or ask for advice or academic help.

“Our Campus Security helps students make good decisions. Our classified staff are friendly and offer students daily support. Our teachers have their rooms open at lunch so that students have a safe zone to do work or just hang with friends and their favorite teacher. Administrators mentor students and connect them to services.”

Barba also said the school partners with A Solutions to offer drug and alcohol rehabilitation on campus. “All of these efforts are examples of what has contributed to a reduction in suspensions and an improved campus climate.”

Monache also improved its graduation rate by 3 percent. “The collective efforts of everyone at Monache High School, including many unsung heroes have been instrumental in achieving this distinguished status,” Barba said. “This recognition is not just a reflection of our academic excellence but a celebration of a community united in its commitment to uplift and empower every student. Everyone contributed to make Monache a California Distinguished School.”

Harmony principal Jeff Brown said the school's success begins with the district. “I cannot tell you how proud I am of Harmony,” he said. “It starts with the governing board and the PUSD district office providing every recourse necessary to achieve such an award as California Distinguished.”

Brown said the school as a “tenacious attitude” of doing everything possible to support and challenge students.

“So they recognize the importance of this journey to reach the next level of success. The entire staff has made an commitment of excellence. From the custodial staff, ensuring that our students enjoy and clean and beautiful campus experience, to the teachers who work every day to give our students the skills necessary to succeed and to the support staff who's daily commitment makes sure all the pieces fit and that no student is left behind.”

Pioneer principal J.R. Ortiz said numerous factors contributed to the school being honored. “We are thrilled to be designated and recognized as a recipient of the prestigious 2024 California Distinguished School honor,” he said.

“Our staff and students deserve all the accolades. This is a testament to the collective efforts of our dedicated staff who have remained steadfast in our pursuit of academic excellence and to the diligent work of our students.”

Ortiz said the school is committed to making instructional decisions driven by data. “This approach has allowed us to identify areas of strengths and opportunities for improvement ensuring that our instructional decisions are intentional and that they directly contribute to advancing student learning.

“Furthermore the relationships our staff build with students are instrumental to our school's success. Our teachers go beyond the traditional roles in the classroom and serve as mentors, role models and advocates of each student. This strong connection not only enhances the learning experience but also creates a supportive and nurturing environment where students are inspired to grow.

Ortiz also credited the district for Pioneer being honored. “We are extremely proud of this recognition and remain committed to building on this success.”

Carl Smith principal Nicholas Garcia said there was no magic elixir to his school's success. “I would like to tell you it's one magic thing we did,” he said. “We would do it every single year.”

But like Ortiz at Pioneer Garcia also credited his staff for going the extra mile. “I'm really proud of our staff,” he said.

“It's really hard to explain. There's a lot of caring, a lot of extra steps to make sure our kids are getting a good learning environment and have the best materials possible.”

Ortiz said the school is still just trying to recover from the COVID pandemic. “The goals have been to address a lot of the little things on learning,” he said. “We do as much intervention as we can. Great staff is what really carried us forward. We do try to mind where we are in the world.

“I think the students really wanted to come back after the pandemic and really wanted to be part of the school structure. It's a team effort.”

https://www.recorderonline.com/ Source: Porterville Recorder