Two San Bernardino County middle schools have been named "Schools to Watch" by the state.
The designation is part of a national effort to improve middle school education, overseen by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.
Summit Intermediate in Etiwanda and Vanguard Prep in Apple Valley are among 12 California middle schools to receive the designation this year, and are the first two in San Bernardino County.
"There are a lot of schools that have wonderful test scores, but they're doing very little otherwise for their students," said Irvin Howard, president of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. "Test scores alone do not tell you how good a school is.
To earn the designation, schools have to demonstrate excellence in four areas, including academics, responsiveness to the needs of adolescents, opportunities for all students to excel and community involvement.
Earning the designation was an outgrowth of improvements both schools were doing anyway.
At Vanguard, the big improvements made in recent years began with tossing out their extracurricular activities and starting fresh, with technology-centered ones designed to teach skills students could use in high school and beyond, including two robotics programs, broadcast journalism, digital publishing, aeronautics and computer-aided design.
"It was something we were going to do no matter what," said Vanguard Prep Principal Brian Goodrow. "It's what was best for kids."
The application process also requires schools to look ahead for changes they plan to implement in the coming years.
"We identified areas that we wanted to focus on as a school. Perhaps some of them were things that we used to do, but due to budget cuts we didn't (keep doing them)," Summit Intermediate Principal Lori Arita said.
"We used to have the AVID (college readiness) program and we'd like to return to that, and we'd like to bring back Bring Your Parent to School Day.
Both schools received a banner and will be painting the Schools to Watch logo on side of their schools.
"If you saw that on the side of a building or on the banner or on the side of the school, it's very, very significant. Only 12 schools were selected this year, only 48 (exist) in California and only 400 nationwide," Howard said.
"Unlike other programs, this program requires schools to reapply every three years, so if they're not maintaining that quality, they lose that designation. No other program does that."
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