State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced on Friday that five local schools have made the state’s distinguished schools list for 2023.
Charles Helmers Elementary and West Creek Academy, in the Saugus Union School District, and Stevenson Ranch Elementary, Pico Canyon Elementary and Oak Hills Elementary, in the Newhall School District, each were determined to have demonstrated excellent work in closing the achievement gap and achieving exceptional student performance, according to the state Department of Education’s press release.
“It is my pleasure to honor and recognize these 356 elementary schools for providing outstanding public education and opportunities to students. Their innovation and hard work have helped to ensure their students can heal, recover and thrive — even in the toughest times,” Thurmond said in the release. “California Distinguished Schools represent examples of not just excellent teaching, learning and collaboration, but also highly successful, data-driven school efforts ranging from professional development for educators to mental health and social-emotional wellness strategies to address the needs of students and families.”
Leticia Hernandez, superintendent of the Newhall Union School District, said the district — and specifically the three schools within it that made the list — met this criteria by investing in mental health following a mentally and emotionally tolling pandemic, which included hiring one counselor for each school.
“COVID took a toll on everybody, of course. But staff has been continuously working to get trained on strategies to close the achievement gap for our students, especially students who were in higher need. So that has been an integral piece,” said Hernandez. “I think the board’s focus was to really have a laser-like focus on student achievement and their gaps and their needs, and ensure that the funding was spent specifically for those purposes.”
One of the ways the Newhall district wanted to close the achievement gap was by requiring the arts in their curriculum — something Hernandez said motivates students to express themselves in a different manner and to get the opportunity to learn skills not necessarily focused on when studying other subjects.
“Apart from their academics, everything that they do, we never allow any student to not participate in the arts and in the fine arts and music,” said Hernandez. “Art really stimulates children and motivates them. So even though some people may not see that as the academic piece, it’s actually really helped the academics as well.”
Hernandez she’d extremely proud of the work that all the schools in the district have done.
“It just shows the staff’s hard work to the community and we’re just really proud, proud of their work.”