MHS named California Distinguished School

Finally, the call that Mammoth High Shool had been waiting for came.

Word arrived late Tuesday afternoon that the school has been awarded the prestigious California Distinguished School award, one of 97 schools in the state to get the coveted award this year.

A product of rising test scores across all the students in the school – whether English Language Learners, English speakers, Caucasian or Hispanic, the award is a testament to several hard years of work by students, parents and staff alike, said school superintendent Rich Boccia.

“It takes an entire learning community to build a stronger student that will be competitive in this global environment,” he said. “This starts with the parents as they prepare their children for their first day of kindergarten, as they grow through elementary school, transition through those crazy middle school years and work their way through our high school.

“This award does celebrate the work of the high school team as they continue to create programs, engage students and develop relationships that inspire our students to be great, to find the passion in their lives and to transition to the next chapter in their lives. We are very proud of this accomplishment and realize that it does take a village to raise a child and that good things will continue to happen because of the hard working and dedicated teams not just at the high school but in all of our schools.”

Boccia gave strong credit to former principal Mike Agnitch, under whose leadership the school achieved the three years of rising test scores.

“This is a tribute to Mike’s hard work and innovative ideas,” he said.

The student’s emphasis on the state’s standardized annual test, called the STAR exam, is at the heart of the award. To get it, schools have to show that not just one or two of their “subgroups” (otherwise known as first-time English speakers, special education, Caucasian, Hispanic, etc., groups) improve by a certain percentage point each year for three years.

If any group is ‘left behind’ the school will not be nominated for the award.

Then, the school goes through a rigorous and time-consuming documentation process, providing the state with everything from graduation rates to on-site visit opportunities.

That process started last year, and was spearheaded by Agnitch.

When asked what he thinks made the difference in scores he said two things.

“One, we changed the philosophy so that students and teachers both didn’t think it was all right to fail. We gave the students extra resources, more one-on-one attention and we also, I must say, made it so that the students simply found it easier to do the work than deal with us pressuring them.
“We also changed the culture, so that the students took the tests seriously,” he said.

That’s critical, since the students don’t get graded individually on the tests, and as such, might not be as motivated to push themselves for a high score,

But because the state test scores are so critical to schools now, giving them access to everything from finding to prestige to possible state intervention if scores drop to far, the scores couldn’t be more important.

Mammoth High Principal Gabe Solorio, who moved from Mammoth Middle School to Mammoth High this past September, has been here before.

Mammoth Middle School preceded the high school, receiving the distinction in 2009. At that time, teamwork between teachers and students were cited as having made the difference.

That is true this year, too.

“This is that same group of kids, achieving here like they did in middle school,” he said. “They, along with the staff here, are commended for taking the tests seriously, for working so hard.”

The teachers decorated the school Tuesday night, and the school is planning a Friday barbecue for the students to celebrate.