NMUSD’s Early College High School racks up more honors with national ‘Blue Ribbon’

Costa Mesa's Early College High School on Tuesday was named a 2023 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School District)

Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Early College High School has been named a National Blue Ribbon School, a recognition bestowed by the U.S. Department of Education to preK-12 campuses that demonstrate excellence in innovation and learning.

The Costa Mesa high school that lets students simultaneously earn up to two year’s worth of college credits at nearby Coastline College was one of 353 in the nation — and among only 33 schools in California — to receive the distinction and the bragging rights that come with the five-year designation.

“It’s a validation at the national level of what we’ve been attempting to do through our vision statement, which is ‘empowering minds, transforming futures,’” said Early College Principal Dave Martinez, who learned of the win Tuesday on an embargoed basis and had to wait a full day to share the news with the school community.


But while administrators are celebrating a professional victory, the momentousness of the occasion is only slowly beginning to sink in for the 200 students enrolled at Early College, which has been no stranger to academic accolades since its opening in 2006.

For its academic rigor and high performance, the California Board of Education designated ECHS a California Distinguished School in 2009, 2019 and again in 2021. The state board in 2015 named the Costa Mesa high school a Gold Ribbon campus.

Last year, the campus celebrated two awards — a California Pivotal Practice (CAPP) Award for responding innovatively to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and a Platinum designation from the California Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) Award.

Martinez credits the victories to both the efforts of the staff and the students, many of whom are able to graduate with enough college credits to start a four-year university as a junior.

“We’re looking at students who are committed to the process,” he said. “You don’t necessarily need to be a high test performing student if you’re willing to put in the work. We consider our high school classes to be honors classes. We don’t call them honors classes, but we want to be able to deliver on that.”

Anyone who looks at the output of Early College High’s student body will see that so far the delivery system is fully engaged. In three out of the last five years, the school boasted a 100% graduation rate. Among last year’s 52, graduating seniors, 25% had earned an associate’s degree.

School leaders are invited to a formal recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16 and 17, during which recipient schools will be presented with a plaque and a flag.

Martinez won’t be able to attend, because he already has plans.

“It happens to fall on a day when we’re recognizing our entire senior class for their [college] application submissions,” he said. “I don’t want to miss that.”

For a complete list of 2023 National Blue Ribbon Schools, visit