State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson on Monday recognized three Kern County schools as California Distinguished Schools, representing campuses that have made exceptional gains in performance and academics — and also named Bakersfield City School District as an “exemplary school district,” according to state education officials.

Cesar E. Chavez Elementary in the Bakersfield City School District, Granite Pointe Elementary in the Greenfield Union School District and Berkshire Elementary in the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District were among 287 schools honored statewide.

“These schools implement outstanding educational programs and practices that help California students realize their potential, and put them on the path to achieve their dreams,” Torlakson said. “Every day at these schools, teachers, administrators and classified employees, working with parents, apply their dedication, creativity and talents toward providing a great education for all students.”

This Exemplary Districts Award, which BCSD earned, celebrates the achievements of districts who have implemented model practices that have had a positive impact on student outcomes, according to the California Department of Education.

BCSD and GUSD schools were on spring break Monday and unavailable for comment.

Schools honored Monday were the first to be distinguished in three years since the California Distinguished Schools Program was put on hiatus while the state developed the new school dashboard model, which assesses campuses based on a series of measures including chronic absenteeism, English-learner progress, suspension rates and academic performance.

Distinguished schools were selected based on their performance and progress on those state indicators. Award winners not only represent examples of excellent teaching, but also successful school climate efforts ranging from real-time conflict resolution to positive behavior intervention, state officials said in a news release.

Berkshire Elementary, a 1,000-student school in southwest Bakersfield, has long been recognized as one of the highest-performing schools in Kern County. Roughly 80 percent of its students are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, and almost 28 percent are English learners. By the state’s old Academic Performance Index standards, which assessed schools exclusively on standardized test scores, few schools outperformed Berkshire.

But even as the state moves toward an assessment model that favors growth over proficiency, Berkshire has continued to see gains. Suspension rates have declined overall, while academic performance in math and English increased by more than 13 points in 2017, according to state data.

The school saw even greater gains in academic performance among homeless students and English learners, groups of students who are generally outperformed by their peers.

P-BVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Gerrie Kincaid attributed the gains to Berkshire’s teachers, staff, leadership, and a deeply-ingrained commitment to student success.

“Our unique school community drives Berkshire’s success. Our students are motivated. Our staff is dedicated. Our parents are committed. Berkshire Eagles proudly demonstrate a spirit of teamwork, which contributes to the positive energy on campus. Our philosophy at Berkshire is that regardless of the classroom assignment, each student’s success is the responsibility of everyone on campus. Students, staff, families, and community partners collaborate in celebrating our diversity as we strive for academic excellence,” Kincaid said. “High expectations are the key to achieving the school's goals and maintaining a positive school climate.”

Kincaid said that some parents have credited the school’s success to experienced educators who are dedicated to bringing families into the school system and teaching them about the learning process while supporting them to overcome any barriers.

“Staff members wear many hats and go beyond the school day — writing grants, raising funds for materials, organizing family events and providing field trips to enhance our students’ education,” Kincaid said.

Overall, BCSD has met all of its local indicators, including parent engagement, local climate, and implementation of academic standards, according to the state dashboard. Suspension rates have dropped across nearly every student group, while English and math performance has either mostly increased or been maintained.

Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School, a BCSD magnet school campus in east Bakersfield, has seen academic gains among all of its student groups, including foster youth, socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students of all races, according to state data.

The school’s 78 students with disabilities are the only student group performing on the bottom half of the state’s color-coded performance index. They have, however, been making gains academically.

To be sure, while many distinguished schools are selected for high performance overall, it’s not a requirement to earn the honor. Some schools selected are not the highest performing in the state, but have made significant progress when it comes to state indicators.

Granite Pointe Elementary, for example, suspends African American students at a higher rate than students of other races, earning them a “red” marker on the state’s color-coded performance index — the lowest measure available. The school, however, has shown marked progress in suspending fewer of those students.

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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