"It's exciting," Graham Principal Kim Thompson said, adding that she takes as a sign that her school's community is "doing something right by the kids."
Graham is one of 218 California middle, junior and high schools recognized this year, according to Thompson. The last time a Mountain View Whisman school was named a Distinguished School was in 2010, when Landels Elementary received the honor.
Thompson said that while higher API scores were the ostensible reason for receiving the award, the school could not have raised its scores without first improving its culture and strengthening its staff.
When Thompson took over at Graham three years ago, she and Assistant Principal Steve Chesley initiated a program called "Essential Elements," which sought to overhaul the way everyone from the kids to the teachers and parents, thought about Graham. Since she began, each year children at Graham are constantly reminded of the Essential Elements — five mantras aimed at bolstering community at the middle school: "I belong," Do no harm," "Together we can," "Pursue knowledge," and "Take pride."
Thompson said she believes the Essential Elements have made a big difference in increasing school pride among the students and teachers, which translates into a better learning and developmental environment.
Graham has also focused on integrating the Explicit Direct Instruction model of teaching into all of its classrooms, as well as a program for English language learners called "constructing meaning" — both district initiatives.
Being named a Distinguished School means Graham can use the California Distinguished School seal on its website and on school memorabilia. "It's bragging rights," Thompson said, and according to her, it has boosted school pride.
Thompson gave credit to the entire Graham community for stepping up to the plate and making the school better.
"Graham could not have achieved this great honor without everyone working together to provide our students the best possible learning environment possible," she wrote in a press release thanking parents, students and staff. "Thank you Graham community for being there to teach, mentor, prod, guide, encourage, counsel, and celebrate with each and everyone of our students."