Penryn School earns California Distinguished School Award

By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Penryn Elementary School has earned top grades by being named a Distinguished School by the California Department of Education. The state education department stated that the winners “share a school-wide vision of excellence where every student can succeed and achieve at the very highest levels of performance.” Penryn School joins an elite group of recipients, which this year includes approximately five percent of public schools in California. “It’s a huge honor to have one of our district schools chosen from the many thousands of schools in California. Penryn’s greatest strength is the relationship between the staff and students,” said Paul Johnson, Loomis Union School District superintendent. Johnson also said the school is a “trendsetter” and that “they pride themselves on being on the cutting edge for innovation.” Perhaps the choosing of the name “Penryn” by the Intel Corporation for their newest, fastest and smallest new chip earlier this year demonstrates this. The state education department’s Web site claims the Distinguished School Award “honors the state’s most exemplary and inspiring public schools.” According to Penryn principal Cindy Uptain, the process to get the award was months long, and required the cooperation of staff, parents and students. Uptain said that initially the school was invited by the state office of education to apply based on state and federal criteria including the school’s Academic Performance Index scores, Adequate Yearly Progress and No Child Left Behind. Penryn teachers Heidi Hayes and Becky Connolly helped Uptain write the application with a theme of “No child left unseen.” Uptain said the writing took at least a month and at least 80 hours of her time. “We produced a volume,” Uptain said of the dozens of pages of written responses they gave to application questions. Another part of the selection process was an extensive site validation visit by a committee, which included Gayle Garbolino-Mojica, Placer County superintendent of schools. Uptain said Penryn School’s Kid Talks program and open door policy for their learning center helped set them apart. In the application, Uptain explained that during special staff meetings for Kid Talks all of the students are individually discussed by all of the teachers. The school’s relatively small size of 241 students allows the staff to know the strengths and weaknesses of each student. According to the application, during Kid Talks “teachers celebrate student successes, report on the effectiveness of different remedial programs for individuals, discuss new student needs, and review social and emotional growth of individuals and classes.” The application also stated that having the entire staff present allowed teachers from previous years “to give the current teacher invaluable insights.” According to Uptain, the open-door policy for the school’s learning center allows any student to get help with their school work, not just those working dramatically below grade level standards. The application reported the center “is available to all students … It is open before and after school, and often during lunch.” The award application also contained a leadership component. Uptain said her leadership philosophy is “We do not all have to think alike, we just have to think together.” During staff meetings Uptain said she ensures “agenda items are discussed in an open forum and decisions are made based upon consensus. Everyone’s input is received and valued.” Uptain said the school was informed of their award through an email followed by a personal phone call from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. According to the Web site Wikipedia, the Distinguished School Award was established in 1985 and alternates each year between elementary (even years) and secondary (odd years) schools and is valid for four years.