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Solano Avenue Elementary School

Solano Avenue Elementary School has a long list of honors. Named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2009, it was one of only 264 public schools to receive the honor at the time. That year, it boasted an Academic Performance Index of 915 (out of 1,000), far surpassing both the statewide goal of 800 and the district API average of 694, and receiving praise from State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell. Moreover, in April 2009, Solano teacher Shannon Garrison received the prestigious Milken National Education Award from the Milken Family Foundation. The honor comes with a $25,000 cash reward.

In 2008, the California Charter Schools Association published a report in which it used the API to rank Solano as ninth in the country when it comes to educating a largely poor and disadvantaged population. Solano was one of only three noncharter schools in the state that made the association’s top 15. Additionally, the school was named a California Distinguished School in 1996, 2000 and 2006. It earned a Title I Achievement Award three years running, from 2006 through 2008. It also had the highest attendance rate in the district for the 2006-07 school year. In a value-added analysis recently published by the Los Angeles Times, the school was deemed “most excellent.”

The school attributes its success to its “qualified staff, rigorous academic program, and high degree of collaboration.”1 Clearly identified student goals and expectations, along with encouragement of students to participate in the school’s reading comprehension program, Reading Counts, further contribute to the success of this model school.

Larry Ramirez, who teaches sixth grade, says that students are engaged and that parents are concerned about student achievement. “The motivation issues you have at other schools, I have not faced here,” he says. Ramirez has heard new students comment on how hard their classmates work. “It’s kind of a shock” to the new students, he says. But pretty soon, “they start working hard, too.”

Teachers work well with William Bertrand, the school’s new principal, Ramirez says, noting that the staff met with Bertrand before the start of the school year. Teachers were impressed with his openness to discussing educational ideas. “Some principals are just data-driven,” Ramirez says. “We don’t ignore the data, but at the same time, what do we want? Do we want to have a bunch of kids with great scores, or do we want to have great kids?”

The willingness on the part of the school staff to have those hard discussions, as well as all the accolades suggest that Solano is living up to its mission: “ensuring that all students have equal access to a quality, research-based, educational program, which is designed to emphasize the development of self-esteem and respect for cultural differences and to prepare all students to become effective and responsible citizens of our democratic society.”2

1Official school website.

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