By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
State honors Whitmore Charter School
Placeholder Image
Whitmore Charter School of Technology in Ceres and Fox Road Elementary School in Hughson were named two of 343 California Distinguished Schools last week.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the "outstanding elementary schools represent many different kinds of communities, organizational structures, and student populations," said O'Connell. "Sixty-four of these schools come from small, rural communities, 11 are charter schools, and nearly half or 156 schools have significant populations of students living in poverty and are supported by federal Title I funding."

This year, the selection criteria for the Distinguished School program were more stringent than ever. Schools wrote a substantive narrative application and then were subject to an extensive site validation.

"Most heartening, many of the schools we are recognizing today as the "best of the best' have overcome significant educational challenges, showing that it is possible to provide opportunities for success to all students," O'Connell said.

Whitmore Charter Principal Paula Smith said the school of 350 students has posted great achievement through a great staff and great parents.

"The focus on building the school was not to receive an award, it was just to build an excellent school with a strong culture that blends the families in with the school to form a strong partnership," said Smith. "It was a surprise but we're very pleased and I'm extremely proud of the staff who've worked so hard and the families. We're very humbled and honored that we were the recipient."

She gives most the credit to her staff: "Their work ethic and passion is incredible and even when they're tired they still go above and beyond."

The parents are also key to the successes. She noted that at Thursday's first fine art gallery display, "the parents came out in force. Some of the classes had 80 percent of the parents show up. This is phenomenal for an art gallery presentation."

Early last week, O'Connell called each school principal to personally convey the good news. Smith expected a pre-recorded message from O'Connell but realized it was a personal call.

"My first though was, What a phenomenal superintendent of schools that he would take the time to call over 300 schools personally because he was that excited about their accomplishments. My second thought was this is really a special occasion for everyone."

Approximately 25 staff members work for the K-8 Whitmore Charter School of Technology. It is one of three schools on the Berryhill school campus. The other two are a homeschool program called Personalized Learning, and Whitmore Charter High School.

The school features two computer labs. The students are pulled out, at least once per week, to learn technology skills. For example, second-graders are learning the PowerPoint program for classroom presentations.

"There is a close collaboration between our technology labs and our classroom settings," said Smith.

In fifth grade students are learning how to use and format the Excel spreadsheets.

Middle school students at Whitmore Charter are putting together productions for business, such as creating business cards and how to present themselves in the business arena.

In the classrooms, technology is also used, such as smart boards, and InFocus projectors.

"Not all the schools have the dedicated computer labs and the dedicated computer teachers. And frankly I'll be honest with you, there's not one school in Ceres Unified that isn't excellent and that isn't making incredible strides in technology. They're all very good of that. I think ours was because we do a combination of arts and technology."

Every student in kindergarten through fifth grade at Whitmore Charter is placed in drama and pulled out for music and formal art instruction. They can also opt to become involved in dance, which offers two productions per year.

Smith said her students are "wonderful students who just want to work."

"They're so committed. They understand that to come to Whitmore they have to complete 90 percent of the work, be here on time and have a great discipline record."

Approximately 180 of the 350 students live in Ceres with the balance living in Turlock and Modesto and adjacent counties.

These schools will be honored along with the 2008 California Distinguished Schools during an awards ceremony and dinner at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on May 16. Smith expects to take a board member, a district representative and two members of her leadership team.

Smith noted that the school has a leadership team that meets once a month that addresses any school needs.

Smith believes the award presentation will be an awesome event.

"You never get so professional that you don't feel a tremendous excitement when something like this happens," said Smith.

The California School Recognition Program is now in its 23rd year and identifies and honors the state's most exemplary and inspiring public schools with the California Distinguished School Award. Although participation is voluntary, the award is highly sought after by schools in all areas of the state. Elementary and secondary schools are recognized during alternate years.

For the current year, 839 elementary schools submitted applications and were identified for eligibility on the basis of their Academic Performance Index and Adequate Yearly Progress results. All applicants underwent a rigorous selection process conducted by the California Department of Education, with the help of many local educators from across the state.

Other schools in Stanislaus County earning the distinction were Capistrano Elementary and Christine Sipherd Elementary in Empire, Alberta Martone Elementary and Rose Avenue Elementary in Modesto, Sierra View Elementary in Oakdale, and Sherwood Elementary in Modesto.