Yesterday, State Superintendent of Public Schools Tom Torlakson announced that 772 California elementary schools are being honored under the Gold Ribbon Schools Awards Program. Sitting among this prestigious crop are three of Benicia's elementary schools: Mary Farmar Elementary, Joe Henderson Elementary and Robert Semple Elementary.
The Gold Ribbon Award was created as a way to honor state schools, while the California Distinguished Schools Program is on hiatus as California creates new assessment and accountability systems. Nearly 6,000 elementary schools were eligible to apply, but only 7 percent of them were able to receive this honor.
Schools applied based on a program or practice schools have adopted that can be replicated by other schools.
“These schools shine as bright beacons for others, putting forth an exemplary effort to ensure that every student is ready for 21st century college and careers,” Torlakson said in a statement. “California teachers are developing an education model for the nation, training the students of today to be the problem-solvers, inventors and pioneers of tomorrow.”
Mary Farmar highlighted its use of the Teacher College Reading and Writing Project, which aims for students to become strong readers, writers and thinkers through collaboration and solid instruction.
Joe Henderson highlighted its efforts to improve literacy by building a reading life. This has been done through the implementation of a new reading room and its use of a web-based program called myON, where students can build their literacy skills through reading stories and poems even when they are at home.
"We have built a love of reading through choice, stamina and instruction," Joe Henderson Principal Carin Garton said."Everything we've done at Joe Henderson has revolved around a love of reading."
Robert Semple highlighted its use of Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, its reading intervention program and the positive impact these programs have had on students.
“Our receiving this award is based on the culmination of hard work done this year and last year,” Robert Semple Principal Christina Moore said. “It validates the specific programs we're working on the positive impact they've had on behavior and academics.”
“We're so excited,” she said of receiving the award. “I'm overjoyed.”
Matthew Turner Elementary, the one Benicia school that was not nominated, was recognized as a Distinguished School in 2014.
All the nominated schools received a visit by a committee, and Superintedent Charles Young felt optimistic afterwards.
“When visitations ended, they told us 'You guys are great. We're submitting your applications to the Department of Education,'” he said.
Young also noted that one third of all recommendations from Solano County came from Benicia Unified School District.
“It's a great achievement and continuing recognition of the hard work put in by staff,” Young said.
"We're told by our families all the time what an exceptional job we do at educating kids," Garton said. "To have the state and county come in and recognize us for it makes it all the more worthwhile. It's kind of a dream come true."
A regional ceremony will be held June 1.