Atwater’s Olaeta Elementary School and Merced’s Peterson Elementary School have been named California Distinguished Schools by the state Department of Education.
“We’re very honored to be recognized for our achievement,” Peterson Principal Suzanne Fagundes said. “It’s a collaborative process and our common purpose is student achievement.”
Ana Boyenga, Olaeta School’s principal, said with schools, like in baseball, it takes an entire staff focused on the same goals and working together to find success.
“The Thomas Olaeta staff is grateful for the opportunity to do the work, to share in the learning with students and to confront the nonbelievers that refused to accept that all students can achieve at high levels,” Boyenga said. “The real winners are the Thomas Olaeta students.”
Olaeta Elementary, at 2266 High St. in Atwater, has 21 teachers and 526 students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Peterson Elementary, at 848 E. Donna Drive, has 754 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade, along with 30 teachers and three clinicians.
Roger Wood of Atwater, a former school trustee and longtime community resident, was part of the team that visited Olaeta School for the Distinguished School honor.
“It’s quite an accomplishment in my opinion,” Wood said. “That school certainly is deserving of that recognition; that school really blossomed under Ana Boyenga’s leadership.”
Olaeta Elementary received Distinguished School honors in 1987, when Suzanne Delaware was principal. Now retired, Delaware said it was a very satisfying feeling just to be nominated. Being named a Distinguished School reflects considerable work on the part of the staff, principal and students to complete the rigorous application process.
“The glow of the award permeates the entire school,” Delaware said.
RoseMary Parga Duran, Merced City School District superintendent, was pleased with news of the award.
“It’s pretty nice; it’s an honor that’s well-deserved,” Duran said. “They are doing an awesome job of meeting the needs of all the students.”
Fagundes said Peterson will receive a plaque and banner at a June awards ceremony. She said the school raised its state Academic Performance Index score 28 points, to 855, and all of its subgroups met their targeted objective.
Two district campuses, Hoover and Rivera middle schools, were named California Distinguished Schools 20 years ago, Fagundes said.
Atwater Mayor Joan Faul also was part of the visitation team led by Merced County Office of Education leaders that validated the school’s effort for the recognition. Faul lauded Boyenga for getting the most out of students, parents and teachers.
“Atwater is very, very fortunate to have such a fantastic school in our community,” Faul said. “It’s just a wonderful, wonderful atmosphere there.”
Boyenga said the API score on state achievement testing at Olaeta School has risen from 754 in 2009 to 872 last year. English language learners made a 116-point gain from 2009 to 2013, reaching 850 points.
Sandy Schiber, Atwater Elementary School District superintendent, said Boyenga and her staff have done a tremendous job of building a school culture where all students achieve at high levels.
“Mrs. Boyenga’s leadership is strategic and built on high expectations in a supportive environment. Thomas Olaeta is a great place for students, staff and the community,” Schiber said.
Boyenga said two educational practices proved highly effective: strategic schooling and targeted intervention.
Teachers focused on establishing well-defined goals and expectations and developing positive adult-student relationships. Support staff worked collaboratively with teachers to provide extra help to struggling students before school, during the school day and after school, Boyenga said.