Mammoth High eligible to be California Distinguished School

Mammoth High School could be one of California’s prestigious Distinguished Schools by this time next year, alleviating some of the criticism and concern that has dogged the school for the past several years.

Significant increases in test score results from all of last year’s students propelled the school into being eligible for the award, with an emphasis on the word “all.”

“All of the school’s subgroups, the English Language Learners, the Hispanic, the Anglo, the socio-economically disadvantaged, all of them had to improve to qualify, and they all did,” said Superintendent Rich Boccia.

Scores not only improved, they improved dramatically, sometimes several hundred percent.
For example, the school’s overall target improvement rate was to go up nine points last year. In 2009-2010, it improved 33 points overall.

The increase was most profound in the Hispanic and English Language Learner groups, where the target growth was 10 points and the actual growth was 60 points.

The school still needs to go through the application process, something that is expected to take several months, with a final decision due early next year.

Boccia said the school will get more information about the process Nov. 8 during a webinar when the state gives them more details.

After that, it’s a matter of getting one pending piece of data – the school’s graduation rate – to the state and writing up a very comprehensive report detailing the reasons the school made such dramatic improvements, he said.

“We will involve teachers, adminitrators and students in helping show what we think will be a compelling story for how this has occurred,” he said. “I do not see any good reason we won’t succeed.”

In what must be seen as something of a vindication for former Mammoth High Principal Mike Agnitch, who retired earlier this year under some criticism from parents and the school board, the improvements occurred on Agnitch’s watch.

That fact was readily acknowledged by Boccia.

“The first call I made last Friday after I got the call from the state (board of education) that we were eligible to apply for the award was to Mr. Agnitch,” Boccia said.

He credited Agnitch with increasing the high school’s emphasis on teaching to the “California standards” over the past three years. The better the students test on these standards, the higher the school’s all-important “Academic Performance Index” (API) scores are.

The newly formed Health Science Academy and the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program are two examples of programs begun or strengthened under Agnitch that have had excellent results, he said.

Agnitch himself could not be happier.

“I knew in my heart that there was no reason Mammoth High School couldn’t do this and I am so glad a school as good as Mammoth High is getting the recognition it deserves,” he said, crediting teachers and student determination and effort.

“For a high school to make these kinds of leaps and improvements is remarkable, partly because high school students are not as easily motivated to do well on standardized testing,’ said Mammoth Unified School District board president Gloria Vasquez.

Only the top 10 to 15 percent of California schools become eligible for the award each year, she said.
Those that get through the “gruelling” application process then end up as a California Distinguished School, like Mammoth Middle School.

Having two such schools in Mammoth is nothing but good news, both for current students and for parents of students who are trying to decide where they might want to live.

Parent Leslie Dawson summed it up.

“What’s been happening the past few years with our students is that they’re working hard and the kids are taking the state standardized tests seriously,” she said.” Teachers are teaching hard, kids are responding and test scores are going up.”