Five Orange County schools – two from Torrance Unified School District included – earned educational recognition this year under the California Gold Ribbon Schools program, replacing the California Distinguished Schools program that is on hiatus while the state develops new assessment and accountability systems.
Schools earn this recognition by creating a model program featuring activities, projects, and strategies centered on standards-based instruction that can be replicated elsewhere.
The Gold Ribbon Schools designation is an award given out annually in celebration of high-performing schools that excel academically, particularly for low-income backgrounds. Criteria used to select winners include academic achievement (student scores on state standardized tests), college readiness and graduation rates, closing student gaps by socioeconomic status, as well as other indicators of school success.
Gold Ribbon Schools take great care to prioritize both academic achievement and the well-being of their students and families. Gold Ribbon schools understand that home life challenges can significantly hinder a child’s engagement in learning each day and offer innovative programs and support services to address those needs. This is particularly essential in high-poverty schools where the daily challenges of living in poverty often act as barriers to student success – for instance, when food or dental issues cannot be fixed, adequate healthcare cannot be obtained, or multiple siblings share bedrooms.
Gold Ribbon Schools prioritize effective communication with parents and use an array of methods to keep parents involved. Contact occurs weekly via emails, text messages, phone calls, in-person meetings, carpool lines, and school events, as well as online platforms – giving parents a sense of welcome while enabling them to follow their child’s progress in school quickly.
The State Department of Education recently unveiled the inaugural California Gold Ribbon Schools – public middle and high schools that have shown impressive gains in meeting academic content and performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education for all students, including English learners. This award program replaces the California Distinguished Schools designation, which is currently on hiatus while new assessment, accountability, and continuous improvement systems are developed. Twenty-nine Orange County middle and high schools were chosen, among which Samueli Academy in Santa Ana focused on serving foster care children as well as those from low-income families – public charter charter schools such as Samueli Academy cater to foster care children as well as those from foster care backgrounds as well as students in foster care or low income families are represented among them.
Student and Family Well-Being
Gold ribbon schools are high-poverty schools that consistently outperform their peers in performance. Furthermore, these schools place great emphasis on student well-being through innovative programs that ensure every child comes to class ready to learn each day and provide emotional support services for both students and families.
Many schools implement strategies to address the root causes of student underachievement and lack of school-wide academic achievement, including having an in-school social worker connect students to community resources or provide assistance if home life issues become an issue. They also feature robust afterschool programming, provide three meals daily on campus, encourage parental involvement through outreach workshops, or have afterschool solid programming to meet students’ needs.
Beyond academic achievements, these schools are recognized for creating an atmosphere of high expectations that fosters college and career readiness among their students, staff, and families. Furthermore, their dedication to health and safety remains paramount.
Due to these reasons, this award has become a symbolic representation of excellence among schools across the nation and one highly desired by educators. Over 280 schools nationwide have earned this coveted designation; California boasts 30 schools – six from Inland Empire alone! – who received it this year?
Schools selected are judged based on a model program or practice they’ve adopted that includes standards-based activities, projects, strategies, and practices. They must show outstanding educational quality by showing dramatic gains in implementing State Board policies and local control accountability plans, with an emphasis on improving teaching and learning for all students–mainly English learners.
Orange County schools have set an exemplary example, with 19 elementary schools earning California’s premier educational honor this year. Encinitas Union School District led the charge, with almost all elementary schools receiving this accolade, while Los Alamitos Unified awarded Palm Lane Elementary with this prestigious recognition.
To understand what makes these schools successful, CHILDREN AT RISK (C@R) conducted interviews with Principals from Gold Ribbon Schools across five school districts in the Greater Houston area. From these discussions, C@R identified common themes and practices that schools can implement or advocate for.
Gold Ribbon schools aim to equip their students to meet high expectations while investing in parents to reinforce those standards at home. They do this through various innovative means, including relaying information via multiple platforms (email, text messages, school-wide meetings, carpool lines, etc), having conversations, and regularly relaying updates via various means (such as emails/text messages/school-wide meetings, etc). However, the most powerful method for engaging parents lies within dialogue – in this way, Gold Ribbon schools create opportunities to keep parents involved throughout their child’s educational journey.
Many gold ribbon schools provide their teachers and students with an abundance of data ranging from STAAR test results to formative assessment scores, making this information the cornerstone of administrator strategies, teacher-led interventions, and student buy-in. Furthermore, all staff members, particularly teachers, understand how this data should become part of daily work rather than simply another data analysis tool.
Schools that have received the Gold Ribbon designation are considered among the finest in their state and have demonstrated outstanding performance in one or more of the following areas:
Over the years, Texas schools have made strides toward meeting this standard; however, more work needs to be done on improving academic achievement among low-income children living in poverty. A report by research and advocacy nonprofit Children at Risk indicates only half of high-poverty schools meet this benchmark compared to 71% of low-poverty schools.
Beyond the high-performing schools that have earned this distinction, many others are working tirelessly to close achievement gaps through local and state leadership and community organizations’ efforts – efforts which are frequently celebrated at awards ceremonies held to recognize those schools that made the list.
This year, 45 Orange County elementary schools earned the honor of becoming California Gold Ribbon Schools, replacing last year’s Distinguished School Program award with this one that recognizes model programs during the rollout of new California standards. While middle and secondary schools received this award this year, elementary schools will become eligible in 2016. These 45 Orange County elementary schools were selected based on criteria including high academic standards as well as solid student achievement for all students, including those from low-income families.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Employing data as an essential decision-making tool is critical to building solid schools, yet standardized assessments, dashboards, and multi-year databases may seem like a burdensome task: “Look at all these numbers!” Alternatively, data may be seen as meaningless figures that don’t add up – either of these reactions misses the mark: data sets should lead to action-oriented questions that help schools thrive.
Gold Ribbon schools stand out from other high-performing schools by their ability to use data effectively as part of classroom instruction. Starting with universal benchmark screening to identify which students may need extra support, followed by progress monitoring for tracking student improvement and making sure students reach their academic goals, the data also informs lesson plans by informing the type of content or instructional approaches they utilize.
Data-driven practices are especially vital for high-poverty schools, where students face unique obstacles that impede learning. Schools in such situations must find creative solutions to access additional resources in order to implement evidence-based best practices; this might involve finding grants, engaging individual donors through technology platforms like Donor’s Choose or Facebook, or mobilizing volunteerism from within their communities.
Gold Ribbon Schools prove that poverty should never be an excuse for poor-performing schools. Each year, Children at Risk (C@R) ranks and grades schools across Texas to recognize those campuses that exceed expectations and excel academically – such as a gold ribbon school – which serves at least 75% low-income students while earning an A or B rating in C@R’s annual rankings. To understand their success further, C@R interviewed principals from Gold Ribbon Schools across five districts within the Greater Houston region and interviewed principals who interviewed us – through these interviews, we identified common themes or practices that campuses could quickly adopt, as well as tangible practices parents could advocate for.