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Distinction EHS Eyes The Prize
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Escalon High School officials are hoping they have to make a little more room on the flagpole in front of the Yosemite Avenue school ... enough room to fly a California Distinguished School flag.

While official notification has not yet been received, officials are excited about the possibility the school will receive recognition in the state's program highlighting outstanding schools. A team visited the school campus on Feb. 27 as part of the process and EHS Principal Joel Johannsen said now they're just waiting for confirmation that the honor has been approved.

"We received a letter back in December inviting us to participate," Johannsen explained of following through on the recognition program.

The Distinguished School award comes from the state Department of Education and Johannsen said there are specific criteria that must be met. For Escalon, it came down to a couple of signature practices that have helped the district improve its API scores as well as the learning environment for all students.

"They asked us to identify two signature practices that we felt have made significant contributions to the school's performance," Johannsen said.

Part of that was focusing on students, offering a Cougar Scores program that sought to address a variety of needs.

Areas of need were identified through the ESLR, Expected Student Learning Results, pointed out through the WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation team visit.

"One of the things we wanted to do was increase our student awareness of the importance of standardized tests," noted Johannsen. "We also wanted to increase a sense of ownership, a sense of belonging among all students."

Programs such as Challenge Day, the Be The Change Club and Point Break have helped the high school break down barriers that used to separate students into specific groups. Now, Johannsen said, the campus is a much more inclusive place, with students from all different groups interacting and forming friendships, making the school community a supportive atmosphere in which to learn.

"We also did a series of assemblies," Johannsen said of focusing on the need for students to do well on the standardized tests. Working with the Associated Student Body officers and some department chairs, the assemblies encouraged students to work hard to achieve on the tests, outlining the benefits for the school and students due to improved test scores.

"We've got new clubs on campus," Johannsen added of expanding the school community. "We probably have one club for every 40 students."

That way, everyone has a chance to 'belong' somewhere, adding to the support that students find from superiors and peers.

The second signature practice for the school was the reading intervention period, a process through which students can get a variety of extra assistance, from peer tutoring to assistance from bilingual aides to exit exam preparation and more.

The school actually had two high level visits in February, said Johannsen, with a Region VI administrative visit on Feb. 14, with 15 administrators from around the region touring the campus, visiting classrooms and observing the school's strategies in action.

On Feb. 27, the Distinguished Schools team was in town.

"They come out to validate what our signature practices reflect," Johannsen said of watching how the practices contribute to overall increased student performance. "There was a team of five ... one was assigned as a one on one shadow to a student, there were classroom visits, they met with our school and community groups, from our department chair leadership team to a couple of student groups, parents and community members, a classified group."

The day was designed to give the visiting team an overall picture of the school and community and Johannsen said officials are comfortable with what they were able to show.

Now that the visits are complete, all that's left to happen is that getting the hoped-for phone call from the state.

"In mid April they announce the Distinguished Schools," Johannsen said, admitting that he "certainly wouldn't mind" making extra room on the flagpole for one more flag to fly.