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2 High Schools, 1 Junior High Cited for Academics, General Excellence

Times Staff Writer

Three Orange County schools are among 90 high schools and junior highs named Friday by the state Department of Education as “distinguished schools.”

State Education Supt. Bill Honig said that Woodbridge High in Irvine, Newport Harbor High in Newport Beach and Walker Junior High in La Palma are among the selected schools.

The schools were judged in statewide competition for their academics and general excellence. Thirty high schools and 60 middle or junior high schools were selected for the awards. They will receive special plaques and flags from the state in ceremonies to be scheduled for this fall in Sacramento.

Seven Orange County middle or junior highs were runners-up in the competition, Honig said.

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They are Orangeview Junior High, in the Anaheim Union High School District; Talbert Middle School in the Fountain Valley School District; Parks Junior High in the Fullerton School District; Marine View and Vista View schools in the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley; Portola Junior High in the Orange Unified School District, and Currie Intermediate School in the Tustin Unified School District.

Recognize Successes

Honig said his department launched the annual “distinguished school” program to recognize the “successes” in California education.

“These past three years have been tough for educators and students as the eyes of the nation shifted suddenly to schools, and instant results were expected,” Honig said. “It is time that we begin to recognize their efforts and successes. This (distinguished school) recognition may serve not only as a reward for achievement but also as a motivation for other schools to strike for excellence. . . .

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“This year’s winners are to be congratulated for their exemplary accomplishments. This was a very competitive selection process.”

Susie Lange, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said that high schools “had to be in the top 20% of high-performing schools with CAP (California Assessment Program) scores and (possess) other quality indicators, or had to be among the top 10% of those schools showing the most improvement in those areas.”

The “quality indicators” besides the CAP tests for high schools were Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) and student enrollment in difficult courses, such as advanced math and science subjects, that exceed high school graduation requirements.

“At the junior high and middle school level, they were judged primarily on CAP scores, but there was consideration of student enrollment in math and science courses,” Lange said. She added that all the schools initially picked for consideration had to complete forms that indicated “more subjective areas, such as extracurricular activities, art programs, school spirit and community involvement.”

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Balanced Approach

Greg Cops, principal of Woodbridge High, said Friday that while he and the school are honored at being picked, “All the schools in Orange County offer good programs. . . . We hope this doesn’t cause comparison problems for high schools that have more problems than ours. We are a new school--we just opened in 1980--and we have been fortunate in that many fine teachers, already successful in their teaching fields, wanted to come here.”

Cops said that Woodbridge High “tries to use a balanced approach in education.” He noted that the school has done very well year after year in the California Assessment Program tests of students’ academic abilities. Those CAP tests were key items in selecting outstanding schools, according to the state Department of Education.

“We were doing really well in math (on the CAP tests), and to improve in the other areas, we revised our English curriculum,” Cops said.

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Woodbridge High is in Irvine Unified School District.

Newport Harbor High, in Newport-Mesa Unified School District, is situated, like Woodbridge High, in an affluent area. “Our community is a successful community that has a lot of drive, and I suspect the parents pass that on to the kids,” Newport Harbor High Principal Tom Jacobson said. “Our faculty has high expectations working in this community.”

Jacobson added: “We have a long tradition of good academic achievement and good athletic and extracurricular achievement at our high school. It’s a school where our most important resources are the people--the teachers, the students and parents--people working together. We’re not a perfect school--no one school is--but over the long haul, we’ve got a pretty good record here.”

In the area of CAP scores, Jacobson said, Newport Harbor High has “tried to beef up our basic skills program.” He said that while CAP scores have been good at the school, the faculty reviews the results each year for “strengths and weaknesses.” As an example, Jacobson said, Newport Harbor found in recent years that its math scores in the CAP tests were suffering because of students’ problems with math probability questions. “We bought some additional teaching material on this subject, and the added instruction has paid off,” he said.

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‘Congratulate Yourselves’

Walker Junior High School Principal Jan Billings said Friday that she had announced to the students, “You should congratulate yourselves, each other, each teacher, custodian, secretary, cafeteria worker, staff worker, mothers and fathers because we’ve developed an unbelievable success team with all of those.”

Billings said she credits “the community, including the parents and the police,” with helping make Walker Junior High, part of the Anaheim Union High School District, an award-winning school.

She said the school is very mindful of the annual CAP score tests. “We’ve been quite high in math (scores),” she said. To improve scores in the written communications area of the tests, she said, Walker Junior High has been stressing more writing, including competition in essay contests. “Our scores in written communication have shown the most dramatic improvement,” she said.

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