OAKLAND -- In public education, closing the "achievement gap" between students who are poor and middle class, black and white, English learners and native speakers has become a common goal -- and a ubiquitous buzzword.
But Oakland's Manzanita SEED Elementary School is doing it. And it's doing it more swiftly than almost every other school in the state, by the federal government's calculations.
Manzanita SEED, a small, Spanish-English immersion elementary school in the Fruitvale neighborhood, was one of two schools in California to win the 2010 National Title I Distinguished School Award for that reason.
About 85 percent of the school's students come from low-income families and half enter kindergarten as English learners. But the reading and math scores of both groups are at or above the school's average and well above the state's goals.
"There is no gap at our school," Principal Katherine Carter said.
SEED, which stands for School of Expeditionary learning, Equity and Diversity, opened on the Manzanita Elementary School campus in 2005, two years into the financial meltdown and state takeover of the Oakland school district.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other philanthropies gave millions of dollars to a district initiative to close low-performing schools, such as Manzanita Elementary, and to open new, smaller ones in their place.
SEED struggled at first, but its test scores have soared since 2008.
Last year, SEED earned a score of 842 out of a possible 1,000 points on California's Academic Performance Index, above the statewide goal of 800. Three of every four students -- and 100 percent of its fifth-graders -- reached proficiency on the state math test, a subject they learn exclusively in Spanish through the third grade.
Manzanita Community School, a 4-year-old school on the same campus, also made big test score gains last year.
Students at SEED are taught in English for half the day and in Spanish for the other half. Unlike a traditional bilingual program, which separates English learners and native English speakers, two-way language immersion classrooms are integrated by design.
Children with special needs also learn side by side with general education students.
So at Tuesday's celebration, it was only fitting that the guitar singalongs included "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," "Paz y Libertad," the African-American spiritual "This Little Light Of Mine," and "Rio" -- and that a student and a teacher stood on the stage, signing all of the lyrics.
Superintendent Tony Smith said he hoped the future of Oakland Unified would look like SEED. "This is a school that honors children by expecting them to be great academically and socially," he said. "This is an incredible place."
Just as the school is receiving national recognition, however, its staff is grappling with the prospect of budget cuts that could undermine its programs.
While the details have not been determined, Oakland principals have been asked to prepare for the possibility of a 15 percent cut. For Manzanita SEED, that would barely cover the classroom teachers, let alone art, a low-cost counseling program, time for teachers to work together and extra help for struggling students.
"We were already doing it with very little," Carter said. "There's all kinds of stuff that's at stake for us."