"We both squealed like little girls," Vice Principal Kirsten Jobb said of herself and fellow VP Gretchen Clare. "And (Principal) Eric (Prater) gave two thumbs up."
What happened a moment later was also predictable.
"We went to a meeting," Jobb said. "It was a Team Leader meeting."
Such is life at Edna Hill, where eyes are always focused on the road ahead and accolades are a by-product, not a goal.
According to a congratulatory message from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, California Schools to Watch - Taking Center Stage schools are recognized for "implementing replicable practices focused on academic excellence, responsiveness to the developmental needs of young adolescents, fair and equitable education for all students, and organizational processes and procedures that foster and sustain academic growth."
To Clare, it can be summed up more simply than that.
Photos by Richard Wisdom
Crossing guard Carol Nolan helps some early arrivals cross to Edna Hill Middle School this week. The school has been named a California Schools to Watch model school for its efforts to help students be successful.
"The values of everyone - staff, parents, the district, the entire community - are aligned to support student achievement," she said. "We use the best educational research to create a learning-rich environment of nurturing and support, a place where kids are respected and honored and a place where they want to be."
As a result of Edna Hill's "culture of caring," Jobb said, the atmosphere at the school is friendly and open. It's something noted by the members of the selection committee during their site visit in January, one of whom noted he had received numerous warm greetings, and that "three of the children offered me some lunch."
The achievement comes as the result of a five-year effort to "create a student-oriented learning environment that responded to the intellectual, social and psychological needs of young adolescents," Prater said in a press release.
"Over the past three years," Prater added, "Edna Hill began to show dramatic academic gains on the California Standards Test. Our efforts to align instructional programs with the rigors of state standards began to reveal its impact on student achievement. The staff's pursuit of continuous improvement regarding their own practices intensified as well. In partnership with our district's Curriculum and Instruction department, teachers learned from each other through peer observations, collegial dialogue and research-based strategies that work for kids."
Clare said the result is a "finely-tuned engine, running very smoothly." The highly-structured system of review and support allows teachers to find out and focus on what works best for the kids, with the help and guidance of their peers. That, in turn, helps students "have an idea of why they have to learn," making schoolwork more meaningful, Clare said.
Brentwood Union School District Superintendent Doug Adams said there was even more to the honor than meets the eye. Student population in the last three years soared from 700 to 1,000, he said, then plummeted again when Adams Middle School opened last year.
"Not only did they keep focus on what's best for kids, they improved dramatically," Adams said. "And they did it at a time of tremendous change. What a job Eric Prater and his staff have done."
Jobb, however, said much of the credit for the school's - and the students' - success must go to the district.
"We couldn't do it without the support of the district, which provides the opportunity to take risks, and allows us the time we need to do what's necessary to improve."
As a result of being chosen a School to Watch, Edna Hill will send representatives to Washington, D.C. to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform. Along with three other California schools named Schools to Watch - Canyon Middle School in Castro Valley, Frank M. Wright Intermediate School in Imperial County, and Oliver Wendell Holmes International Middle School in Los Angeles - Edna Hill will formally be recognized at the annual California League of Middle Schools Conference in San Diego in March, where it will be given an opportunity to showcase its accomplishments and network with other middle schools from around the state.