Six Orange County schools are among 35 nominated by state officials this week for a federal Blue Ribbon award, the nation's top prize for individual campuses.
The U.S. Department of Education will announce the winners next fall. Last year, five O.C. public schools were nominated, and three won the prize.
This year's local nominees and their districts are: Sycamore Elementary, Orange Unified; A. G. Currie Middle, Tustin Unified; Oxford Academy, Anaheim Union High; Plavan Elementary, Fountain Valley Elementary; Robert C. Fisler Elementary, Fullerton Elementary; and Stonegate Elementary, Irvine Unified.
"We are extremely elated with the schools and what they've accomplished," county schools Superintendent Al Mijares said Friday. "As they are recognized, it helps not only them to be better, but it raises the bar for all of us."
Two groups of schools can qualify – schools that rank in the top 15 percent in state test scores for English-language arts and math, and schools with at least 40 percent of students from low-income families that make significant jumps on the Academic Performance Index and other measurements.
At Irvine's Stonegate Elementary, Principal Stan Machesky said staff and parents are elated about the school receiving its first-ever Blue Ribbon nomination. Stonegate, in Irvine's fast-growing Woodbury neighborhood, is in its fourth year. Its founding population included students from Irvine's shuttered Westwood Basics Plus Elementary School.
"So many of the schools in Irvine are high-achieving; we'll do our best to represent Irvine well," Machesky said. "I feel we're a Blue Ribbon school already, whether we win this award or not. It would be quite an honor, but if we don't get it, it won't demean the work we do here."
Machesky said Stonegate has found success by focusing on the needs of the whole child, not simply on test scores.
"We focus on providing social guidance and building trusting relationships – the larger dynamics that exist in humanity," Machesky said. "Rather than say, 'Let's get a higher API score,' that's a pleasant byproduct of our attention to the individual child."
Schools nominated for a Blue Ribbon award must apply for the honor by submitting a lengthy application.
In California, only schools that have won state Distinguished School awards are invited to apply for the Blue Ribbon.
"These schools all share a deep commitment to the education and well-being of their students," state Superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a written statement. "We've recognized them on the state level, and now I hope their outstanding work and remarkable progress will be further spotlighted nationally."
Blue Ribbon honors previously were rotated between groups of elementary campuses and middle and high schools. This is the second year that federal education officials have allowed schools at all grade levels to apply.
Once a school wins a Blue Ribbon, it's ineligible to apply for three years.
The Blue Ribbon award has no monetary prize. But the honor carries with it benefits other than prestige and bragging rights; for example, it can increase property values of nearby homes.
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