Eleven Modesto City Schools shared the spotlight Wednesday for making huge strides on state test scores.
The celebration ceremony was a chance for students, parents, teachers, staff and principals to bask in the sunlight. Fittingly, a rendition of The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" greeted about 150 in the audience and 60 school representatives on stage.
The growth on last spring's test scores was historic for the district. Eight schools improved their Academic Performance Index by more than 30 points, a record for the district. Five schools with significant at-risk student populations meet all their federal accountability benchmarks.
A bonus at the event was state Superintendent Jack O'Connell, there to highlight the schools' accomplishments.
"The best part of being superintendent is taking credit for your hard work," O'Con-nell said jokingly. "But you are all very, very deserving."
He noted the district achieved its higher scores in a difficult economy and with students from a variety of backgrounds.
"You are a remarkable example of a school district with students who bring challenges, but you are removing those impediments and are meeting those challenges," said O'Connell, who has visited Stanislaus County a handful of times over the past several years.
O'Connell called on Modesto educators to "redouble" their efforts to close the achievement gap, saying it was more than a moral or social imperative, but an economic one.
Beard Elementary School Principal Gregg Elliott brought teachers, a teachers' aide, the student council president and a parent to the event.
"It's a culmination of a lot of hard work over the last three years," he said. "I wanted representatives from all different parts of the school because everyone contributes to student learning."
The honor was welcome for Elliott's staff in light of increasing pressure to do well on test scores and a shortage of funding.
Provided a model
In acknowledging students and staff, Modesto City Schools Superintendent Arturo Flores said he hoped such celebrations could put the district in a positive light. He pointed to the district's strategic plan, effective teaching and inspirational teachers as helping students succeed.
"We've made exceptional programs and provide a model for others that it can be done," he said.
Though state test scores ebb and flow each year, most California schools are making slow and steady improvement.
County Superintendent Tom Changnon congratulated the schools' students and staff, saying he learned during a recent tour of the county jail that more than 90 percent of inmates did not have high school diplomas.
"I applaud (the district's efforts) to make sure every student graduates with a diploma, because without a diploma, their futures are not bright," he said.