5 Orange County Schools Honored With Blue Ribbon Awards

September 27, 2020 Updated: September 27, 2020

Five schools in Orange County have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools for the year 2020 by the U.S. Department of Education.

Ethan B. Allen Elementary School in Fountain Valley, Laguna Road Elementary School in Fullerton, Mariners Christian School in Costa Mesa, Red Hill Lutheran School in Tustin, and Vista Verde Elementary School in Irvine were the recipients of the awards.

All public and private elementary, middle, and high schools in the nation are eligible to be recognized for the award, based on overall academic achievement or progress toward reducing disparities between different student groups.

The schools received letters on Sept. 24 notifying them of the honor and commending them for “striving to do what’s right for your students and to personalize instruction to meet your students’ unique needs and strengths.”

“It is my hope that you will become a beacon for other educators, working with them, and sharing the practices that make your students so deserving of this national recognition,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote in the letter.

In a Sept. 25 video message to families, Laguna Road Elementary School principal Cindy Bak excitedly announced that their school was one of 36 schools in California, and only 367 schools in the country, to get the award.

“This is the highest honor and distinction that a school can receive from the U.S. Department of Education,” she said.

The winners are typically honored at an annual ceremony in Washington, D.C., but this year a virtual event will be held on Nov. 12 and Nov. 13.

The principal of Ethan B. Allen Elementary, Dr. Andrew Heughins, said that not only is his school a National Blue Ribbon recipient, it’s also a California Distinguished School and one of the highest ranked elementary schools in Orange County, according to a message on the school’s website.

“Allen is focused on our commitment to expanding STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) learning opportunities school-wide,” Heughins wrote.

“We have continued to expand our use of flexible seating throughout the school to increase student collaboration and provide students with the skills needed to work in the economies of the future.”

Allen Elementary, which is in the Garden Grove Unified School District, also provides a gifted program for students, participates in a Disney musical program, and offers after-school activities including academic chess, skateboarding, and a build-it workspace. The school’s 6th grade Academic Pentathlon teams have won first place in the county for seven out of the past eight years.

Jerry Vlasic, principal of Vista Verde Elementary, said his school is dedicated to carefully evaluating the effectiveness of the school’s teaching methods to make sure students receive a well-rounded education.

“Ultimately, our work is guided by four essential questions,” Vlasic wrote in a message.

“What do we want students to know and be able to do?

“How will students demonstrate that they have mastered essential learning and developed the essential capacities?

“How will we intervene for students who struggle, and enrich the learning for students who are proficient?

“How can we use the evidence of student learning to improve our individual and collective practice?”

He praised the Irvine Unified School District for striving for “the highest quality educational experience we can envision.”

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has given nearly 10,000 awards to more than 9,000 schools over the past 38 years. No more than 420 schools are nominated each year.

Nine schools in Los Angeles County, five schools in San Diego County, and two schools in Riverside County also won the award.

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