It’s not the first time Charles Helmers Elementary School in Valencia has received the California Distinguished School Award. It’s the fifth time.
Nine hundred students, teachers, parents and administrators gathered in the front of the campus Friday for a spirited celebration as Husky, the school’s mascot, helped to hoist the official 2014 California Department of Education Distinguished School flag to the top of the flag pole.
The morning’s theme centered around more than academic achievements. Sixth-grade students who spoke at the event praised the school’s leaders for fostering a family-like community that feels like home. With just two more days before summer break begins, Friday’s ceremony was bittersweet for those who won’t be returning to Helmers in the Fall.
“It was an honor to be asked to write a speech for today,” said sixth-grader Kate Jetter. “We’re all really close, like one big happy family. That’s what makes us distinguished. We all know each other and we all trust each other. My teachers are very inspiring, they’re always there for you and encourage you and I wanted to give them the respect they need.”
Jetter was joined by three other sixth-grade students who were invited to speak at the school-wide assembly that was also attended by Assemblyman Scott Wilk, district administrators and governing board members.
Charles Helmers Elementary was selected to receive the award based on the results of the Spring 2013 STAR test scores which showed the school’s success in narrowing the achievement gap, particularly in special education and english language learners.
Helmers received an API score of 918 out of 1,000 points. The state considers an API of 800 as “high performing.”
“It doesn’t take a plaque or an award to make us distinguished,” said Principal Diane Miscoine. “We do stand out in a crowd.”
California schools that meet a variety of eligible criteria are invited by the state to submit an application for the award. Once the application is approved, school sites are visited by a team of educators who observe and conduct interviews with students and staff on campus as part of a validation process.
Dr. Joan Lucid, superintendent of the Saugus Union School District, sat in on some of the interviews during the site visits.
“They all talked about how they are a family and how families work together,” Lucid said. “It is a team effort, it is a village and we’re very proud of them.”
“It’s more than just the classwork, it’s about what happens after school too,” said sixth-grader Lacey Donahue. “I like that we have different things to explore. I play in the orchestra and I really enjoy that. There’s after school dance, design workshops, cooking.”
Helmers Elementary was honored with the California Distinguished School Award in 1993, 2000, 2004 and 2008. The school was also named a Blue ribbon School in 2008 United States Department of Education.
“We are a special breed here from the kids to the parents, classified staff to custodians, we’re all close knit,” Miscoine said. “You walk in at any moment and the kids are just in there loving school and they’re excited to come to school. Our teachers are motivated. Talk about collaboration, they work hard.”
In 2014, Helmers was joined by three other Santa Clarita elementary to receive the distinguished school award. Meadows and Valencia Valley Elementary Schools in the Newhall School District and Pinetree Community Elementary in the Sulphur Springs Union School District also displayed significant academic progress and narrowed the achievement gap between higher-performing and lower-performing students.