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Even in tough times, Ceres Unified schools have plenty to celebrate
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Recently, we learned that Westport Elementary School was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. This is a special event, as evidenced by the fact that Westport is the first school in Stanislaus County to receive this award since 2003, when another Ceres school, Virginia Parks Elementary, earned the honor. I am tremendously proud of the efforts of our teachers, support staff, administrators, students and parents to attain this status. I believe it also speaks highly of all Ceres schools that our district is home to the two most recent Blue Ribbon Schools in Stanislaus County.

I remember that in my early years in Ceres Unified, the district was not always portrayed positively in the surrounding community. (I do believe that Ceres residents always have known that our schools are special.) In particular, I remember a radio ad in the early 1990s in which a candidate for the Legislature bashed Ceres High School and promoted his own school in trying to make a name for himself. As offended as my Ceres High School teaching colleagues and I were at the time, such attacks were not uncommon from people outside the district.

What a difference two decades make. I now hear routinely from my colleagues around the county what a great school district we have in Ceres. I believe this is true, not because of anything any individual has done - I certainly haven't been in my position long enough to take any credit - but because of the ongoing, combined efforts of our teachers, support staff, administrators, Board members, parents and students, along with a great deal of support from the community. As evidence, I offer the following list of accomplishments:

1). Academic Performance Index (API) growth: The California Department of Education assigns schools and school districts an API score following the administration of state testing each spring. Ceres has had a decade of uninterrupted growth in the district-wide API. Our scores are on a par with districts with much higher socioeconomic conditions than are present in Ceres.

2). California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) results: Eighty-three percent of Ceres students passed the English language arts portion of the CAHSEE exam, slightly surpassing the state average. Eighty-two percent passed the math portion of the exam. Our results on this critical test were particularly strong for students considered at risk, including those living in poverty, English learners and special education students.

3). Drop-out rates: Again, Ceres outperformed the state as well as the county in this area, with a 9.1 percent drop-out rate compared with 17.7 percent statewide and 19.4 percent for the county.

4). Post-secondary plans: An impressive 86 percent of 2011 graduates from Ceres' two comprehensive high schools plan to continue their formal education beyond 12th grade - three percent in the University of California system, 24 percent in California State Universities or other four-year institutions, and 59 percent in junior or community colleges.

5). Enrollment growth: As with a business, the ultimate sign that your product is successful is that people buy it. During the last four years we have continued to see slow but steady enrollment growth, even as many of the school districts around us lose students. The reality is simple: Parents have a choice of where they send their students. I am proud to say that parents appear to be expressing their pleasure with our schools by entrusting us with their students instead of exercising their option to attend schools in other districts or transfer to charter or private schools.

We live in tough times. Our economy has been depressed since 2008. (I do not agree with the experts that the recession ended two years ago, certainly not in a local context.) Our students' hopes for their futures lie in the opportunity afforded by an excellent public education system. In this regard, I believe that the citizens of Ceres can be confident that the next generation is receiving an excellent education and that the community can take great pride in its schools.