Turlock Junior High honored as a 2014 School to Watch

— Turlock Junior High has been named a 2014 School to Watch, the first San Joaquin Valley school outside Fresno County to receive the title.

“Turlock Junior High School is a model of what an outstanding middle school can be. School leaders from across the state will now turn to Turlock Junior High School for guidance on improving their programs to better serve their students,” said Irvin Howard, president of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. Howard’s group partners with the California Middle Grades Alliance to present the Schools to Watch – Taking Center Stage model schools awards.

The Turlock school will celebrate March 3, unfurling a school banner denoting its inclusion on a short list of 59 schools statewide awarded since 2003. The school gets free team registration at the annual alliance conference, as well as coaching and networking opportunities. In return, Turlock Junior High will be expected to mentor staff at other middle schools and present workshops on its programs at national conferences.

“We are thrilled to have received this recognition,” said Principal Dave Kline, crediting dedicated and collaborative staff and teachers for the school’s success. Test scores are up 100 points and suspensions have dropped by half over the past five years, he said Thursday, adding that the two go hand in hand.

“Students are being successful in class, which means they’re less likely to act out,” he said. Proactive discipline strategies work with more interactive classwork to keep kids on track. There are a wide array of electives, from wood shop to art. The school of 1,300 students has three bands, two orchestras and a choir.

Kline said the school was asked to apply based on its test-score growth, and a selection team visited the school in December.

“They went to every single classroom,” he said. “I knew, once we got them here and they saw what was going on here, students engaged and the teaching, I knew we’d be designated a School to Watch.”

An innovative “co-teaching” program mixes special-education and regular students who’ve fallen behind in classes. The students are taught by a subject-matter teacher and a special-education teacher. It brings together the expertise of both for more intensive help, Kline said.

Math co-teacher Leigh Krebs said she enjoys the mix. “It allows for general-education and special-education students to have the same educational opportunities. They get help regardless,” she said. “Not that it’s not a challenge, but it just warms my heart.”

The program impressed evaluators, who look for “social equity,” providing every student with high-quality teachers and support, according to its website. Other criteria listed: academic excellence, responsiveness to adolescent challenges and strong organizational structures to keep the gains going.

The Turlock Junior High award ceremony will be at 1 p.m. March 3 at the campus, 3951 N. Walnut Ave., Turlock. Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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