Seven county schoolslauded by state

Green Hills School in Millbrae was one of seven schools in San Mateo County recognized Tuesday by state education officials as a California Distinguished School.

Parent Ana Benavides couldn’t agree more.

“This is a great school,” the Millbrae resident said while waiting to pick up her daughter at Green Hills on Tuesday.

That daughter needed help with reading once — and got it, in the form of tutors. “Now she’s doing pretty well. When kids need help, they always find a way to help,” Benavides said.

The annual designation honors “the best of the best,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said. All the schools have achieved high scores on the state Academic Performance Index test, met growth targets and met federal No Child Left Behind standards, according to Mary Gomes, a consultant for the California Department of Education. There were 377 award winners this year, out of 2,043 eligible. Approximately 1,000 schools applied.

There were more award winners this year than in any prior year because more schools applied, Gomes said. She said schools are eager to demonstrate success in public education, and the lengthy application process is a good catalyst for districts working on self-improvement.

That was true for Central Elementary School in Belmont, Principal Cori McKenzie said. The school had been an award winner 11 years ago, but did not succeed in 2004 when they reapplied. That taught them that they had to do more for their small community of students who don’t speak English as a first language, MacKenzie said. They won the award this year.

“We did an enormous number of things based on what we learned about ourselves,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie and Green Hills Principal Sharon DeBiago said dedicated teachers, parents and students are all vital to making a successful school.

“It’s not uncommon to have 19 [parent] volunteers out of 20 families [in a class],” MacKenzie said. “It’s a small school, so it’s like a big family.

The Distinguished School award lasts for four years, and the state switches annually between awarding high schools and elementary schools.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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