A Porterville elementary school and a rural K-8 school were the only two Tulare County schools to make the list of California Distinguished Schools last month. 

Santa Fe Elementary School was the Porterville school honored.

Distinguished School awards are presented by the state based on outstanding teaching, learning, and collaboration. Schools are also recognized for providing successful climate efforts ranging from real-time conflict resolution to positive behavior intervention .

Santa Fe was among the highest performing schools in math during the 2018-19 school year with almost two-thirds of its students (64.33 percent) meeting or exceeding state standards. That was second only to Visalia’s Oak Grove Elementary School in Tulare County. 

Santa Fe’s feat is even more impressive considering more than 60 percent of its 750 students are also at or above standard in English language arts (ELA) when 82.2 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged and 45.3 percent are English learners. Only about 20 of the K-5 school’s students are considered chronically absent, meaning they have missed almost a month of school, and just three students were suspended during the 2018-19 school year.

“I’m very honored to capture this prestigious recognition of being a California Distinguished School,” said J.R. Ortiz, Santa Fe’s Principal, “Only 5 percent of the elementary schools were able to receive this recognition.

“Much of the success is attributed to passionate and committed staff who continually seek to improve and elevate their instruction results and increasing student achievement.

‘We also have incredible scholars who meet all challenges presented to them on a daily basis.

“Finally, thank you to all parents for their continuous investment in their children’s education.”


Columbine Elementary near Delano was the other Tulare County school to be recognized as a California Distinguished School.

“These outstanding schools don’t just educate students; they also provide the young people of California the tools they need to be successful after graduation,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said. “Thanks go to all the staff at these schools — teachers, administrators, classified employees — and parents, who are working together to provide high-quality educational experiences for all of their students.”

The two Tulare County schools were among 323 elementary schools honored on December 19 under the 2020 California Distinguished Schools Award Program. Sponsored by the California Department of Education and presented by California Casualty, the program recognizes outstanding education programs and practices. Schools are awarded for closing the achievement gap and for achieving exceptional student performance.

A component of the California School Recognition Program, the Distinguished Schools program recognizes schools based on performance and progress on the state indicators as specified on the California School Dashboard. Indicators include test scores, suspension rates, and conditions and climate. Elementary schools and middle and high schools are recognized in alternate years; therefore, awardees hold the title for two years.

Every year, two of California’s Distinguished Schools Awardees are also eligible to be recognized as a National Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Distinguished Schools Awardee. 

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