5 Sonoma County schools named among California’s most distinguished in 2023

Five Sonoma County public schools have been included among the state’s distinguished schools program, which celebrates the California schools that best champion students.|

Five Sonoma County public schools have been included among the state’s distinguished schools program, which celebrates the California schools that best champion students.

Corona Creek, Meadow, West Side, Alexander Valley and Liberty elementary schools were part of the 356 schools across the state named in the 2023 California Distinguished Schools Program, which returned this year after temporarily being suspend due to the pandemic.

The program evaluates schools’ test scores, chronic absenteeism, suspension rates and socioeconomic data, which can be found on the 2022 California School Dashboard.

Sonoma County previously has seen a few of its schools make the list, but this year “we’re excited at having five, which is quite a high number for us,” said Eric Wittmershaus, director of communications at the Sonoma County Office of Education.

This year’s recognition makes Liberty Elementary, in Petaluma’s Liberty School District, the most awarded distinguished school in the state over the past six years, according to Christopher Rafanelli, the district’s superintendent.

This year also marks the first time a school in Healdsburg’s Alexander Valley Union School District has been part of the list, which was created in 1986 and alternates between elementary, middle and high schools.

After years of disruptions for Sonoma County schools, including wildfires and the pandemic in which schools were forced to adapt to remote learning, educators found pride in getting recognition for their efforts.

“Once we heard the news, it was it was kind of a level of validation for us and our students for how hard they worked,” said Matt Reno, superintendent of the Alexander Valley Union School District. “I think it helps to celebrate our relationship that we have with our kids.”

The acknowledgment, Reno said, is owed in part to the high level of parental involvement, a strong sense of community and a focus on the whole child.

“This was a tough time for everyone,” said Reno, adding that parents who did everything they could to support their children’s educational growth helped make the award possible. “So in a way this Distinguished School award is really a community award for our teachers, staff, kids and families.”

At Waugh Elementary School District in Petaluma, which saw two of its schools, Corona Creek and Meadow elementary schools, earn recognition, Superintendent Mike Gardner said teachers and classified employees took the lead in helping students flourish during a difficult time. Parents and caregivers provided strong support to help make it possible, he said.

“The timing of receiving the honor was very powerful in that it was coming off such a tremendous challenge in public education,” Gardner said. “The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to distance learning, the challenges of reopening school and then even still continuing to recover from all of that. To be recognized was such an honor on the heels of such a challenge just means so much.”

Classified employees, which include custodians, office assistants, librarians, instructional aides and anyone who is not a teacher or administrator, were the unsung heroes during the pivots and reopening of schools, he said.

“Congratulations to the hard-working teams at our newest distinguished schools,” Amie Carter, Sonoma County superintendent of schools, said in a news release. “This type of academic success only comes from educational systems that are disciplined in their instructional practices and relentlessly focused on achieving excellence.

“Culture, teamwork, and the ability to find innovative ways to improve learning is the key to this achievement.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

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