Pacific Grove receives the Gold Ribbon Award

Courtesy of the Monterey Herald:

Pacific Grove High and Salinas High are among the 275 middle and high schools in California that have been chosen to receive a Gold Ribbon Schools Award. They’re the only ones in Monterey County chosen this year for the honor.

“These terrific schools are leading the way in embracing our new rigorous academic standards and showing others how to help students succeed on their way to 21st century careers and college,” Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a press release. “I look forward to traveling the state to honor these schools and to help share the programs, methods, and techniques that are working.”

The schools apply to receivethe honor and are chosen by a team of educators who review the application and visit the campuses. The schools are selected based on innovative programs or practices implemented to improve student academic achievement. A total of 477 schools applied this year.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Matt Bell, principal of Pacific Grove High. “We’re super excited, and really humbled. It’s the validation of the hard work that the instructional leadership put in and the work of the entire staff. A lot of times, in schools, you work and work and sometimes it feels nobody really knows what you’re doing. So getting the award for the faculty is validation that the work they’ve been doing is meaningful and it’s being recognized.”

Salinas High Principal Judith Peterson could not be reached for comment.

The work that Pacific Grove teachers are being recognized for can be summarized in a simple sentence: building a student centered culture of learning. It’s easily said, but it has taken years to develop, and it began roughly when the school began adopting the Common Core Standards, Bell said.

“We had a series of meetings over the last few years with faculty to evaluate where we were and what was the direction we wanted to take,” Bell said. “Through those efforts we created a vision statement for the entire school. That got us focused in a singular direction.”

The direction eventually led them to the creation of “professional learning communities,” teams of teachers who propose solving problems based on data to make sure proposed solutions address real problems. It’s a method teachers used to help students struggling with math.

“Initially we were putting a solution ahead of the data and for kids who struggled in math we made them take two math classes,” Bell said. “Understandably, students did not like to take two math classes, even if it helped them. These are kids who don’t necessarily need a second class. They needed to learn the concept and then they would be fine.”

After looking at the data, administrators created a math support class after school for kids who were failing tests, Bell said.

“They could come for three, 3-hour sessions and retake the tests. If they did fine, they were done with the class and would not have to take it anymore,” he said. “It’s unlike taking a whole class for the entire year, that was like purgatory. Now there’s a lot of buy-in, the grades and math scores not only in the class but (California assessments) Smarter Balanced are up. That came through a ton of data analysis.”

Another example of the school’s data gathering and analysis: At the beginning of the school year, teachers identify students they alreadyknow. Through thismethod, students who don’t already have adult connections are identified so they can receive follow up in the middle of the school year, when their attention begins to drop. This project was implemented bearing in mind that students do better when they have meaningful adult connections.

“It’s creating a culture of following through, establishing a culture within the school,” Bell said.

Gold Ribbon Schools award recipients will be honored at a ceremony in the upcoming weeks.

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