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Fruitvale Junior High earns its fifth California Distinguished School Award

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Fruitvale Junior High students salute the flag during a school assembly in 2018.

Fruitvale Junior High has been recognized by the California Department of Education for the fifth time as a California Distinguished School. The junior high was the only school in Kern County to be honored out of 100 middle schools and high schools across the state.

"We are all so proud of Fruitvale Junior High for receiving this honor," said Krista Herrera, who serves as the administrator of professional learning and student support for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.

The school will hold the title for two years. This is a familiar award for the junior high, which won the award in the first year it was introduced in 1986. It also won the award in 1994, 1999 and most recently in 2013.

Principal Erick Rouanzoin said that in some ways he was surprised by the award. In previous years, schools would apply for the award, but this year Fruitvale Junior High was chosen automatically based on criteria from the California School Dashboard at https://www.caschooldashboard.org.

Fruitvale Junior High earned its achievement in the category for "Closing the Achievement Gap," which meant that it had to meet six criteria such as having a poverty rate above 40 percent, seeing academic growth among targeted groups and hitting certain goals when it comes to suspension and attendance. 

In other ways, he said it wasn't a surprise to be recognized based on the work that the school and district has put in over the past few years.

"We have some of the best staff," he said.

In recent years, the school has implemented a block schedule that gives its students extra time in core subjects, such as language arts and math. Rouanzoin said that extra emphasis on literacy improves academics across the board, because students who can read better perform better in all their classes.

Rouanzoin said that a new approach to homeroom has helped increase student attentiveness while decreasing suspension rates. The advisory period isn't just a time to turn in homework, but a period for students to learn social and emotional learning skills. Students stay with their advisory teacher for their two years at the school.

The data is based on a combination of data from 2017 through 2019, so it doesn't touch the pandemic years. But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said it's important to recognize schools for their excellent teaching, collaboration, professional development and positive behavior intervention, especially during this difficult time.

"Amid the backdrop of uncertainty and hardship facing all California schools this past year, this recognition is especially remarkable," he wrote, in a statement.