6 in Stanislaus win distinguished status

Six Stanislaus County elementary schools on Monday were named California Distinguished Schools, the most prestigious state award given annually to public schools.

Four earned the distinction for the first time -- Orchard and Standiford elementary schools in Modesto's Sylvan Union School District, Mary Lou Dieterich Elementary in Modesto's Stanislaus Union School District, and Westport Elementary in the Ceres Union School District.

"We're very excited about it. Having two schools is a great honor," said Sylvan Union Superintendent John Halverson. "We'll hang those flags with pride."

Alice N. Stroud Elementary in the Empire Union Elementary School District and Hart-Ransom Elementary in west Modesto's Hart-Ransom district were honored for the second time.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell announced that 484 public elementary schools were chosen as 2010 California Distinguished Schools. The program alternates each year in recognizing elementary and secondary schools. Honorees keep the title for four years.

"These schools have persevered despite state budget cutbacks that have cut deeply into the budgets of local school districts," O'Connell said.

He said schools were chosen based on academic excellence and on their success in closing the achievement gap.

One of those schools was Westport Elementary, where 92 percent of students come from low-income families and more than two-thirds are learning English as a second language.

"We're very excited. The (staff) were totally psyched," said Principal Marla Mack, who credited her staff and the increasing number of extra help options for her students.

The Distinguished Schools will be honored during a ceremony and dinner at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on June 4.

Since the recognition program began in 1985, 68 Stanislaus County schools have been named Distinguished Schools.

Other Northern San Joaquin Valley schools to receive the honor include:

Brock Elliott Elementary, Manteca Unified

George McParland Elementary, Manteca Unified

Stella Brockman Elementary, Manteca Unified

Ripon Elementary, Ripon Unified

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.

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