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Principal credits enriched education as key to schools success
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Students from Walnut Elementary Education Center celebrate the announcement that Walnut is a California Distinguished School. For the past three years Walnut has maintained the highest academic testing scores in the Turlock area. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

Walnut Elementary Education Center was singled out by the California Department of Education on Thursday as a 2012 California Distinguished School.

The Turlock school, which hosts both an arts and math/science magnet program, is one of only three schools in Stanislaus County to achieve the honor.

“The schools we are recognizing demonstrate the incredible commitment of California’s teachers, administrators, and school employees to provide a world-class education to every student, in spite of the financial hardships facing our state and our schools,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. “Their dedication is inspiring, and I applaud and admire their passion and persistence.”

The 2012 California Distinguished Schools Program focuses on California’s students and their entitlement to an equitable and rigorous education. The program identifies and honors those schools that have demonstrated educational excellence for all students and progress in narrowing the achievement gap.

To be invited to apply for distinguished school honors, schools must meet a variety of eligibility criteria including designated federal and state accountability measures based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Academic Performance Index requirements.

Once schools are deemed eligible, the CDE invites them to apply to be recognized as a California Distinguished School. The application process consists of a written application, which includes a comprehensive description of two of the school's signature practices, and a county-led site review process, which validates the implementation of those signature practices.

Walnut Principal Mark Holmes was excited to hear the news and he attributed the accomplishment to a collection of contributing factors.

“We focus on solid core instructional practices with student achievement at the forefront. We balance that with the unique opportunity of our math/ science and renaissance arts magnets,” he said. “Some schools can obtain the high test scores, but lack in other areas. We strive for a balanced and enriched education for our students.”

Holmes later applauded the hardworking teachers and staff at Walnut, along with support from the Turlock Unified School District administration and Board of Trustees.

“All of these factors aligned to produce these results,” he said. 

In the past three years Walnut has outperformed all public schools in the Turlock area on state testing and the academic performance index. Since Walnut is a magnet, it enrolls students from all over Turlock — and every class has a rolling waitlist.

“I am very proud of what Walnut’s teachers, classified/confidential employees and administrators have accomplished. By having one of our schools receive such a high honor, it conveys recognition to the outstanding education taking place in the Turlock Unified School District,” said TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.

Elementary and secondary schools are recognized by the state in alternate years. This year focuses on elementary schools.

Schools earning the Distinguished School title agree to share their signature practices with other schools and serve as mentors to other educators who want to replicate their work. An updated searchable database of these signature practices will be available later this spring by the California Department of Education.

Schools selected for recognition will be honored by Torlakson at an awards ceremony and be presented a plaque and flag. The event and awards are funded by donations from corporations and statewide educational organizations.