EL CERRITO -- Tehiyah Day School, a private Jewish school with 245 students, was recently named an "Exemplary High Performing School" and presented with one of the nation's highest honors for academics.

Tehiyah, which means renewal in Hebrew, was one of 50 private schools in the country to receive the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award and the only Jewish school in the country to get one. The honor, presented by the U.S. Education Department, recognized Tehiyah's dedication to academics, student performance and teaching. In total, nearly 270 public and private schools across the country received the award.

Bathea James (Head of School) is on the left, and Elise Prowse (Head of Middle School) is on the right. In the center is Aba Kumi, of the U.S. Department
Bathea James (Head of School) is on the left, and Elise Prowse (Head of Middle School) is on the right. In the center is Aba Kumi, of the U.S. Department of Education, which presented the Blue Ribbon Award to Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito.

"We feel very proud, privileged and honored to have won it," said Head of School Bathea James, who accepted the award in November from the U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Washington, D.C. "It justified and recognized all the work the teachers, staff and administration have done to make the school one of the top in the country."

Tehiyah was founded in 1979 and is a Jewish school unaffiliated with any particular movement, said Donna Sidel, the school's director of communications.

The El Cerrito campus is the largest Jewish day school in the United States serving students from kindergarten to the eighth grade. Classes are small, with only about 14 to 17 students in each, and the curriculum not only teaches the regulars like science, math and history but also teaches Hebrew every day and Jewish studies several times a week.

The school, which has a tuition of $15,000 to $20,000 a year, accepts students from all religions and backgrounds. Students are immersed in teachings that cross over different subjects. For example, a student learning about ancient Greek history in history class may then be taught about the Pythagorean theorem in math class and about Jews in the time of Greek rule in Jewish studies class.

Sidel, who was instrumental in applying for the award, says the school was measured through nationally normed tests and detailed information about Tehiyah's programs.

Tehiyah had to provide narratives about the content in each of the school's core curriculum areas, how the school differentiates instruction to meet the needs of student subgroups and about its particular approach to reading and math. The award committee also considered the school's professional development program and leadership philosophy. Sidel said she applied for the honor for the school at least once before.

"It's almost like a college application with essays and word limits. They measure test scores over multiple years, and you have to explain the scores," she said. "You can't make any errors on the application, or you will not be considered."

U.S. Education Secretary Duncan said in a statement that National Blue Ribbon Schools are the best of what America has to offer and are models for schools across the country.

"Schools that are honored with the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award are committed to accelerating student achievement and preparing students for success in college and careers," he said.