Merced County Times Newspaper
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Mitchell Senior, Peggy Heller schools receive special designation

Two schools in the Atwater Elementary School District (AESD), Mitchell Senior and Peggy Heller, have met the qualifications to become a California School to Watch.

Schools to Watch is a national network of over 400 schools in 17 states.  Schools that apply to become Schools to Watch in the Fall submit an application that is reviewed by experienced middle-grades experts in their State.  If the application is approved, the school hosts a validation visit.  California is the largest State participant.

The Schools to Watch criteria are as follows:

Organizational Structures and Processes:  The school is a learning organization that establishes norms, structures, and organizational arrangements to support and sustain their trajectory towards excellence.

Academic Excellence:  The school is academically excellent.  It challenges all students to use their minds well.

Developmental Responsiveness:  The school is sensitive to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence.

Social Equity:  The school is socially equitable, democratic, and fair.  It provides every student with high-quality teachers, resources, learning opportunities, and supports.  It keeps positive options for all students.

Visits were held at Peggy Heller on Dec. 8, and at Mitchell Senior on Dec. 10.  Both schools met the qualifications and will be recognized by the California League of Middle Schools in March and a National School to Watch in June.

Dr. Sandra Schiber, AESD Superintendent, told the Times, “The California Schools to Watch Designation is an honor as it validates what is important to us as a district and that is a Professional Learning Community where we embrace a culture of continuous learning.

“The California School to Watch Designation is well deserved.  Both Mitchell Senior and Peggy Heller serve their communities exceptionally well.  They provide an environment of high student achievement, developmental responsiveness and a positive and inclusive environment.”

Describing how the designation was conferred, Dr. Schiber said, “Mitchell Senior and Peggy Heller completed a lengthy application process that included an onsite visit by a panel of middle school experts.  Both schools received official congratulations on Friday, Dec. 17.

“Peggy Heller and Mitchell Senior will have numerous visits from Middle Schools in California over the next few years to learn about the signature practices that make them a School to Watch.

“It was a pleasure to share in the joy of the Principals and staff of Peggy Heller and Mitchell Senior.  I’m very proud to work with such dedicated and talented staff who work together to create exceptional schools for our community.”

The school principals of both Peggy Heller and Mitchell Senior described what it is about the school which they felt earned it the special recognition.

Lyndsay Olds, Principal of Peggy Heller School, told the Times, “Peggy Heller Elementary was highlighted for their unique response to the pandemic, finding ways to safely provide elective opportunities, increasing intervention response during the day, and boosting Social Emotional learning.  Peggy Heller was also commended on their student-centered Professional Learning Community practices.”

Mitchell Senior Principal Diana Dietz told the Times, “Mitchell Senior’s recognition as a School To Watch comes from our core academic traditions rooted in excellence through teacher collaboration in the planning and implementation of rigorous, high quality instruction.

“Students have access to many extra-curriculars and electives, such as AVID, WEB, California Cadet Corps, athletics, band, and robotics.

“From the pandemic came an immediate need to focus on intervention, social equity, and building Thunderbird Pride.

“Our partnership with Leader in Me, restorative practices, community circle facilitation, and the addition of FLIGHTS class for every student (Focus, Leadership, Independence, Habits, Teams, Synergy) were recently implemented to support our students’ well-being, voice, and leadership.

“The restructuring of our master schedule into four academies has brought innovation to a more student-focused learning environment.”

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