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Thurston celebrates Schools to Watch honor

It is one of just 12 campuses in the state to achieve the award this year.

February 12, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • [Irv Howard (president of The National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform); Theresa O'Hare and Jan Vickers (Laguna Beach Unified School District board members), Jenny Salberg (principal, Thurston Middle School), Sherine Smith (superintendent, Laguna Beach Unified School District), Bill Landsiedel (school board president, left to right, at the celebration honoring Thurston Middle School.
[Irv Howard (president of The National Forum to Accelerate… (DON LEACH )

The numbers tell only part of the story of why parents, students, teachers and school board members gathered in the gym at Thurston Middle School on Friday morning to celebrate.

Yes, the school's Academic Performance Index score was 944 in 2012. Yes, 453 of the 770 students have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Yes, there are 21 clubs on campus.

But Principal Jenny Salberg said there is much more to the campus, which holds sixth through eighth grades.

"We're not perfect, but it's great [at Thurston]," Salberg said following an assembly to honor the hillside school as a Schools to Watch recipient.

Thurston is one of 12 middle schools to receive the distinction in California this year, and one of just 48 in the state since the program began in 1999. Friday's celebration was also the first of its kind in the state to reward the newest recipients.

The award recognizes a school for students' academic achievement, social equity and organizational strategies. Innovative teaching methods and student-centered approaches are desired qualities for the award.

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The assembly began with a video and progressed with appearances by Laguna Beach Unified School District Supt. Sherine Smith, school board President Bill Landsiedel and the school's band, led by conductor Jeremy Chung, playing a refrain from composer Aaron Copland.

The bleachers were packed with staff and students and a stage was set up on the floor, bordered with blue and gold balloons emblematic of the school's colors.

Irvin Howard, president of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, explained to the crowd the meaning of the Schools to Watch award.

"All the students are so lucky," Howard said. "You've got people who have your best interests at heart. Things are happening at the school that benefit you."

Schools are reevaluated every three years to verify that they're eligible to keep the distinction, signified at each campus by a Schools to Watch banner.

Howard said no California school has had to turn in its banner.

"We're coming back in three years to visit classrooms, talk to teachers and talk to parents," he said.

Part of the responsibility of being a Schools to Watch recipient is to take on a mentorship role for other schools, some of which are in other countries.

"There are schools not as successful as Thurston," Howard said. "They need help. They need models. People will spend the day talking to teachers."

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