Out of 218 middle and high schools statewide, North County San Diego boasts three middle schools that can claim the California Distinguished Schools Award for 2013. This is good news for local families who may begin to worry about sending their children on to the big, bad, mean junior high after the innocent elementary years.
The reputation belonging to the transitional years between primary grades and high school has largely been refuted over the years with the movement away from “junior high” towards “middle school,” a philosophical shift as well as a grade level shift. Most middle schools now encompass 6th through 8th grades, rather than 7th through 9th, and accommodate the needs of the younger student adjusting to multiple classrooms and teachers as well as physical and emotional development. Nevertheless, parents and children often need reassurance that the middle school experience will be a positive one.
The California Distinguished Schools Award is an indication that the children who attend one of the recipient institutions will be presented not only with an excellent education but also with the opportunity for that good experience. The award is granted partially based on test scores and academic indicators, but also on an evaluation of other factors. Schools are required to highlight their “signature practices” – those programs and activities that set them apart by giving students needed support and rigorous, high-quality educational experiences. A school may highlight its methods for supporting struggling learners, creating engaging learning experiences through technology or creative approaches, and establishing climates of equity, safety, and respect. The schools who receive the award are put through a rigorous evaluation process including site visits and interviews with students, parents, administrators, and teachers.
At Aviara Middle School in Carlsbad, parent Michelle Ginn was a part of the interview process and describes some of the school’s special qualities this way: “The priority that has been placed on integrating technology into the classroom instruction has had significant impact on our performance. AOMS is also a place that supports each student in a holistic approach including feeling connected to their school community. It is a great place to learn and grow.”
While each honored school was awarded for unique reasons, these qualities are some of the factors that a worried parent can trust will be present at schools who receive such distinction. This is echoed in the article “Model Middle Schools” on Scholastic’s parent page which advises parents what to look for to weed out the better schools from the “scary” ones.
Three schools in the area who earned this distinction are Carmel Valley Middle and Earl Warren Middle, both part of San Dieguito Union High School District, and Aviara Oaks Middle in Carlsbad Unified. Five other middle schools in San Diego County also received the award; nineteen total middle and high schools in the county were awarded the title.
Administrators who have led their school to win the title must give credit to their whole team, reflecting the wide scope of criteria that is evaluated. Laurie Brady, Principal at Carmel Valley Middle, views her school’s award this way: “It is awesome to have the hard work and achievements of our outstanding staff and student body recognized! CVMS is focused on closing the achievement gap via professional collaboration driven by the formative process, best teaching practices and ample opportunity for support and reteach for every student. I am proud of the Bobcat staff!”
And parents can hopefully feel as Ginn does, when she considers her younger children not yet in middle school: “ I will have students at AOMS for many years to come and I am thrilled about the opportunities they will have.”