In tough economic times, good news is hard to find, especially in the world of education.
So when Chenoweth Elementary School principal Paula Heupal missed California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell's congratulatory phone call, she was upset.
O'Connell made four other phone calls this week to Merced County schools to praise them for making the needed academic gains to qualify for the Title One Academic Achievement Award.
Yamato Elementary School in Livingston, Peggy Heller Elementary School in Atwater and Schendel Elementary School in Delhi were the other recipients of the award. Luckily, O'Connell left Heupal a message, which she played for the entire school the next day.
Statewide, only 238 schools made the required academic gains to qualify as winners. Out of the more than 9,000 schools in the state, 6,000 participate in the Title One program.
Title One is the largest federally funded education program in the country.
The program, part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, provides funding for students living at or near the federal poverty level as a way to help them meet the necessary academic requirements for their grade level.
According to the California Department of Education (CDE), to qualify for the award, 40 percent of the school's population must be classified as economically disadvantaged.
Also, these students must be headed toward proficiency in math and reading and they must have doubled their achievement targets for two consecutive years.
"Chenoweth has been working for a number of years on continuous improvement," Heupel said. "The school has made 200 points worth of academic improvement."
Academic improvement is gauged by scores on standardized tests and yearly progress.
Marilyn Blake, principal of El Nido Elementary School, said her school was in program improvement five years ago, but this year her school was recognized by the state for its academic achievement.
Schools in program improvement have failed two years in a row to achieve proficiecny and to meet yearly benchmarks on standardized tests, according to the CDE.
"We went from 400 points to 800 points," Blake said. "It feels so wonderful. We are so proud."
Blake credits the success to teachers and to a computer program that helps individual students with concepts they haven't grasped.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2907 or firstname.lastname@example.org.