This year’s California Distinguished Schools

Staff Photojournalist
file photo of ACORN Woodland by Laura Oda/Bay Area News Group

Congratulations to ACORN Woodland and Henry J. Kaiser Jr. elementary schools. They were among 22 in Alameda County and 387 statewide to be named 2012 California Distinguished Elementary Schools, an award given by Tom Torlakson, California superintendent of public instruction.

Other nearby winners were Malcolm X in Berkeley; Amelia Earhart and Donald D. Lum in Alameda and Hanna Ranch and Olinda in West Contra Costa.

The awards went to schools that showed academic excellence for all students and which have narrowed the achievement gap. You can find the full list here.

“The schools we are recognizing today demonstrate the incredible commitment of California’s teachers, administrators, and school employees to provide a world-class education to every student, in spite of the financial hardships facing our state and our schools,” Torlakson said. “Their dedication is inspiring, and I applaud and admire their passion and persistence.”

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • makeitgoaway

    All or almost all elementary schools…Doesn’t that suggest or represent that the award criteria are geared toward elementary? As the years go on it is harder and harder to make an impact on mistakes made in lower grades.

    It would be interesting to do a follow-up. How many students who attended an “award winning” California Distinguished School eventually attended college? Would it be any higher than the norm, or are teachers and staff being unduly praised for achievements which have no measurable correlation to later success?

  • Katie McLane

    Every other year, the middle and high schools are honored.
    At Kaiser, we stay in touch with our kids and know of no drop outs in high school, and many, if not most, of our graduates have gone on to either two or four year colleges and universities. A lot has to do with the relationships built at the school and the fact that almost all of the families chose to come to Kaiser, thus building a strong culture of support and involvement on the part of the families which has continued through middle and high school.

  • Renae Briggs

    Kaiser is truly worthy of being honored…and not just for this year. the foundation for success at Kaiser has been built on solid rock…over time….with love, dedication and hard work by ALL the invested parties…. the former and current Principals ( especially Katie McLane), the teachers and staff, the parents AND THE STUDENTS.

    I am proud to say that even though I haven’t worked at Kaiser for over 6 years, I still consider myself a part of the Kaiser community. And this is true for everyone I know who has worked at or attended Kaiser. We built and LIVED community…. and that is something that can never be taken away.

    Congratulations to ALL Henry J, Kaiser Pink Panthers former, current and future!

  • http://CCTimes Art Mijares

    Congratulations Los Medanos Elementary-Pittsburg. Once again, you have overcome and shown the community that it is possible to succeed in an area where the challenges are great. You have a different kind of Spirit and our children see it and respond. I was one of those children and passed it on to our children who are now teachers who teach this different kind of Spirit to this generation and their children. As a result,this new generation will rise and become who they are.

  • Monte McClain

    Congratulations to all of the schools that were recognized. I find it poignantly good news for schools to continue excelling in the light of, and despite, all of the challenges that they face in our current political and economic climate. It’s a statement to the tenacity of faculties, staffs and parents who remain committed to public education in the midst of layoffs, budget cuts and threatened closure for monetary reasons (in the example of Oakland’s Henry J. Kaiser).

  • Nextset

    Good for this school. But:

    I have long experiences with people (some of whom I really like) who insist they are special and stats and odds don’t apply to them. As a rule such people refuse to study stats and odds and see no need to maneuver themselves into safer waters. Since they believe themselves to be special they see no need.

    I’m old enough to have seen disasters such thinking obtains. Including for people I love.

    Back to the thread, it’s great everybody is having such a great time today. But I can’t help but notice we are talking about primary schools where it’s easy to not see trouble coming. And what’s the demographic at these schools?? Before we congratulate them, is their good result merely standard stats for their demographic? Have they produced unexpected good results??

    When OUSD wants to impress me they will need to do so at post puberty results. I really hope they produce some good news soon.

    People, OUSD does have some great students within their student population. Their success does not always mean the school is doing anything special.

    Of course some schools return good stats.

    And as far a “closing the achiement gap” – we were not born yesterday. If someone really wants to advance that canard try explaining all your assumptions.

  • Liza


    I am a parent at Kaiser and this school certainly does do many special and creative things. ANY school in OUSD that is doing well is doing “anything” and everything special. Maybe we have forgotten, but having to supply a library, a PE program, teacher’s aides in the form of parent and neighborhood volunteers, computer science, art programs and supplies, reading enrichment specialist, etc.–all the things that were previously supplied by school districts across the nation that are no longer something that children can expect much less take for granted—is a special act that requires enormous commitment, talent and energy. Those are just the concrete, tangible things you can’t point to. The subtleties of vast community support for families is difficult to articulate here in this medium without the accusation of thinking “you think your special”. We do not think of ourselves as “special” snowflakes. Just fortunate and grateful to have these particular puzzle pieces in place.

    As for closing the achievement gap, what assumptions are you referring to?

  • Catsup

    Hey Nextset! Your reply to the thread is so circular that it can’t be followed by this reader. It makes no sense whatsoever and I have a very fine postgraduate college education, not to mention a distinguished elementary education. I trust you did not attend any of the distinguished schools mentioned in the thread, most likely not Kaiser nor Acorn nor Malcolm X or any of the others?? Perhaps if you had, your thread could be posted with more understanding of what you are attempting to communicate.

  • Lisa C

    Interesting Nextset. May I ask if you have children in the OUSD school system? Do you have any idea of the demographics of the schools? If you really did know the schools honored, then maybe you would not be making the blanket statements regarding statistics, etc.

    I do have kids in the OUSD school district and have kids at Kaiser Elementary and at Claremont Middle. Kaiser definitely is an amazing school and it is because of the teachers, the administration and because of the families.

    Kaiser truly reflects the wonderful diversity of Oakland- so yes, there really is a reason to honor schools that are doing an amazing job teaching the whole child. It is not just the academics that are considered. Yes these are just test scores. But how ar schools educating children in a way to have a positive impact? Kaiser for many years utilizing arts integration into the curriculum. They also looked at the extremely The diverse culture at Kaiser, and looked at what a great job Kaiser is doing teaching ALL the kids at Kaiser. And yes, Kaiser is DEFINITELY closing that achievement gap.

    Is OUSD perfect? By no means no. We all have our ideas and frustrations with the school district for sure. This award is not about OUSD, this is about the schools that go above and beyond in a unique and positive way to educate kids.

    Sorry to hear you are so pessimistic, but honestly a little good news goes a long way and these achievements are about many different people all working together- administration, teachers and parents- to provide an excellent learning environment. Seems to me that is the goal for all of OUSD.

  • Lisa Capuano Oler

    According to the State of California STAR testing website about 35% of Kaiser is African American, about 30% White and the rest is quite a mixture. Acorn Woodland is Latino with no other significant subgroup. On the 2011 STAR results for Kaiser ,African/American subgroup was so small that they would not report how the test scores looked to protect privacy. So one could not really know how they look with regard to closing an achievement gap.

  • Livegreen

    I agree with most of the posters. Any good news at OUSD should be celebrated. In fact we need more of it.

    Furthermore and once again a diverse school in Oakland shows it can educate all it’s children. Like Peralta before it, it is Kaiser’s time to represent the diverse “schools in the middle” and to show that this is a model that mostly (if not entirely) breaks the demographic stereotypes and works for all.

    As opposed to flatland schools that are under recoursed and some schools with great resources but with little to no diversity, Kaiser and schools like it are a model for OUSD and the dreams of MLK.

    It might take hard work but hard work CAN pay off. Way to go Kaiser.

  • Livegreen

    The 2011 API of Kaiser’s AfAm population is lower than it’s white or Asian but it is a solid and growing 816, more than at most District schools, and something to be proud of even if more work remains.

    Congratulations also to Acorn Woodland, fighting even bigger odds (though you don’t need to highlight your success at the expense of someone else).

  • Liza


    According to the CDE, Kaiser star tests are readily available for AA students. The page states,

    “An asterisk (*) appears on the Internet reports to protect student privacy when 10 or fewer students had valid test scores.”

    There are no asterisks, just numbers of presumably signifigant African American students that took the test.


  • Mary

    I’m so proud of ACORN Woodland Elementary School (AWES) –it truly awes me!! I am proud of Kaiser too! Kudos to Korematsu, which was nominated for the first time this year. It is wonderful to have such great schools within the “100 blocks.” I know how hard the teachers, principals and support staff work, and how committed the parents are to seeing their children succeed. My heart is full of happiness for them.

  • Nextset

    Skunk at the garden party again. just can’t help it.

    It’s great things are going so well at the Primary schools – and good for Kaiser.

    Sorry people. Things are not getting better in Oakland, CA, or the nation. Not for Blacks and not for the public as a whole. In fact in Oakland and the other urban areas it’s getting worse. My posts are probably well known for this point. We need to get the children prepared to make it in the Brave New World. It is already far tougher to get into the middle class and stay there than when I was in East Bay Schools. I anticipate things are about to get much worse, not better.

    The products of the urban public schools by and large are missing out on what should be done for them. Especially the black students. This is reflected in the math and verbal scores, the unemployment of these students, their economic prospects and the general health and mortality rates for them. I think these numbers are worse than in the 1960s. I attribute the avoidable problems to both the lack of discipline and the lack of appropriate education & training.

    So back to the thread. Time and time again I see OUSD promoting some photo opportunity at a primary school where all is wonderful. I know that is someone wants to deceive people into thinking that all is well in education, they push the primary schools in their PR. Here it is again.

    Where is the OUSD promotions about the high school aged student population and how they are doing well – doing better – anywhere (in any measure)?? Where are the stories about recent graduate statistics? Listen to the overwrought language of those praising this tidbit of good news. Have we learned nothing about propaganda and PR? And as far as those saying the place may be falling apart by my Johnnie had a good time.. just keep saying that. It’ll get you by.

    Good for Kaiser. Now the black kids leaving OUSD can’t read and write – and when they can they typically choose not to. They also have occupational problems not seen with other groups. Need to work on that. All is not well at OUSD and these PR releases don’t do it for me.

    It’s not a big deal that good students do well. We expect that. I want to see something being done with the average OUSD students that is visible beyond puberty.

    Quit thinking I’m casting stones at your babies or not appreciating how really wonderful it is at the party at Kaiser. Show me a surprising accomplishment not a self congratulatory party for the winners who are too young to evaluate anyway.

    Brave New World

  • makeitgoaway

    Don’t most of these same families who make up Kaiser and other honored elementary schools desert OUSD by middle school and certainly by high school? What is surprising here? These school are not like the rest of OUSD. There will be no overall change until the District can convince high achieving families to stay because it is both safe and academic.

  • Barb Gee

    I have volunteered at Acorn for three years. It is an amazing campus and school climate, with incredibly dedicated teachers. I am not surprised at all that they are getting results. Go Acorn Woodland!

  • Christopher Scheer

    My alma mater Malcolm X winning this again, nice!

    South Berkeley has strong schools these days, no doubt: Emerson, John Muir, Malcolm X all earn raves from parents. LeConte still struggles, but dual-immersion is strong. Longfellow is a respected middle school and even long-suffering Willard is seemingly OK.

    It wasn’t always that way, so kudos to BUSD for getting some things right.

  • Super

    NextSet, you and I are often of like mind but I think this time your cynicism is misplaced. I believe we should view these and other accomplishments – great and small – as possible indications of a change in the right direction that will certainly not come over night. And almost certainly won’t reach all parts of Oakland. But as an Oakland taxpayer with a toddler who may spend several years in the Oakland schools, I’ll take what I can get and I’ll hope that it spreads.

    Otherwise I’ll pay for private school or move.

  • Monica Yu


    Actually most Kaiser families do go on to public, OUSD middle school and high school. And I think the same is certainly true at ACORN Woodland. I’m not sure the exact numbers, but I would love to know. These schools are very much ‘like the rest of OUSD’. I’m a Kaiser parent, but I’m familiar with the phenomenal work happening at ACORN. Congratulations to both schools, as well as to Korematsu for the nomination. I encourage readers of this blog to learn more about some of the amazing positive things happening in Oakland schools. There has been a lot of negativity this year, but I also see some really inspiring things happening in Oakland.

  • http://lazearelementary.org kweaver

    Congrats to Acorn Woodland!

    This award is a testament to their hard work and leadership – AW has overcome transition and tragedy the last 2 years of such impact that the school could have easily fallen apart. Much respect to the teachers, admin assistant, admin, custodians, food service, aides, parents and volunteers; all must have worked diligently as part of the Woodland’s team.

    A few thoughts:

    1. What impact has the new facility and library made?

    2. I found this listing of AW’s program to be very informative: http://www.acornwoodland.com/learning-at-awe.html

    3. Would the staff, students, and parents be willing to do some reflecting and documenting of their work. We’d all benefit from creating a video library of best practices to be made accessible via the district intranet… whereby people can see successful ways of teaching each subject, arts integration, data meetings, work exhibitions, collaborative grading of student writing using your 3-point rubric, etc. Given your students’ use of technology, they could have a “Media Team” that’s commissioned to plan, record, edit, and present these things to the school’s leadership team for final review. Is there money to pay a willing staffer to lead that work? Would the district finance it since it benefits the organization? Would LCI (Leadership, Curriculum, and Instruction) lead that work?

    4. Is Acorn willing to disclose how it chooses to allocate funds? In the era if site-based budgeting, it may be beneficial to emphasize/recommend/share/document approaches that have produced results. Their transparency could become a road map for schools to begin their budget conversations.

    5. Would Acorn’s leadership team create a list of school habits, systems, foci, initiatives, etc and then have teachers rank each one according to impact on student achievement, fidelity with which it is adhered to, and desire to continue it going forward? More importantly, would you be willing to list the things that Acorn Woodland DOESN’T do – which, by omission, have a positive impact on student achievement.

    6. Encompass’ presence on the same campus as Acorn Woodland (along with all shared campus situations) presents a great opportunity for OUSD to do some research – assuming the demographics of both schools are similar. What is the relationship between schools that share a campus? Are there programmatic things they share? What do they have in common and how do they differ – and what are the outcomes related to those things. Maybe our district could have its R&D team do some field research. An opportunity to research, identify, document, and potentially lead staff into codifying best practices would be powerful “D” in R&D.

    7. There should come a time when, if a school team, principal, or a teacher needs support in an area, they can just click on the link from the OUSD intranet to see that area being done well by OUSD colleagues. Teacher and Principal evaluations will/should also have hot links so people can immediately see how to improve on their growth areas.
    (In the meantime, we could do some due diligence on tools like this: http://programs.pearsonpd.com/teachercompass/observe-video.cfm).

    8. Congrats to Kimi Kean and former Woodland teachers, and staff students, who worked to set the foundation for what we see today.

    9. Principal Gaines, maybe this will make-up for the Super Bowl. Congrats, man.

  • Arcoiris

    Congratulations ACORN Woodland.

    Regarding Kweaver’s comment #6, OUSD has a Quality School Review that they are piloting this year. EnCompass was one of the first schools, and if the program is launched district wide, schools will participate every 3 years. During the course of a 3 day visit, the team interviewed faculty, staff, and families. They also conducted classroom and school observations and reviewed many documents. I’m not sure how the information will be disseminated, but it does seem like an opportunity to shine the light on effective practices and identify areas of concern.

  • http://holdenhigh.org/ Ali

    Congrats,this is very big acheivement on ACORN Wonderland.