Turlock Junior High School and several Turlock Unified School District administrators have been recognized as some of the best in the region and in the state, taking home prestigious awards for their commitment to student success.
TJHS was first honored by the Schools to Watch-Taking Center Stage program in 2014, and this year was selected as a re-designated School to Watch in 2018 after being re-evaluated – something that happens every three years for schools that are already designated. Middle schools recognized by the program demonstrate academic excellence, social equity and responsiveness to the needs of young adolescents, and each school that earns the honor must complete an extensive application that is reviewed by middle school experts.
“I think (this award) says that my staff here has been working really hard and trying to engage students, ensuring their success,” said TJHS Principal Robert Ruiz. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
When TJHS was first designated as a School to Watch in 2014, the program was impressed by the school’s programs which target English language learners and at-risk students, offering after school tutoring and providing them with transportation.
Since then, the campus has undergone a “culture change,” said Ruiz, improving academic excellence even more so than in the past.
“Student engagement is huge here, and part of our re-designation was due to the new programs we’ve added,” he said.
Some of those programs include a Student Core Restorative Justice program, where students are trained to be prosecuting and defending attorneys and help students win or lose real cases, and the Positive Behavior Intervention Support program, which provides incentives for good behavior.
The junior high school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs were another winning factor when it came to its re-designation, said Ruiz. STEM is the campus’ theme, he said, as well as its future.
“They also addressed our STEM programs – we have Project Lead the Way, which is a STEM elective and pathway, and we also offer STEM computers and a STEM shop,” said Ruiz. “We certainly want to see our STEM program grow. That’s our goal.”
While TJHS looks ahead to its future a select few TUSD administrators were able to reflect on their successful years after receiving awards from the Association of California School Administrators for Region 7. ACSA is the umbrella organization for all school leaders in California, and nearly 760 educational leaders belong to ACSA Region 7, which encompasses Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
In total, TUSD received five awards from the ACSA: Turlock High School Principal Gabe Ontiveros as Secondary Principal of the Year, Dennis Earl Elementary School Principal Dr. Laura Fong as Elementary Principal of the Year, TUSD Director of Technology and Innovation Jay Brem as Technology Administrator of the Year, TUSD Board President Barney Gordon as Board Member of the Year and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler received the Distinguished Service Award.
TUSD Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan reflected on the awards that TJHS and the district’s administrators received.
“The recognition of Turlock Junior High School and administrators is a testament to the work they do on behalf of students every day, including a focus on student achievement and rigor. The staff at TJHS is committed to providing access and opportunity to students so that all can be successful,” she said. “Likewise, the four TUSD administrators and board member who have been selected by ACSA’s Region 7 Administrators of the Year are dedicated to building relationships, securing resources, and removing obstacles so that the needs of all stakeholders are met, ensuring we make a difference for students and their families.”