It’s official: IUSD’s Stonegate Elementary School has earned a national Blue Ribbon

IUSD’s newest elementary school is also its newest National Blue Ribbon School.

Stonegate Elementary learned on Tuesday morning that it was among 286 campuses from across the U.S. to have earned what is widely considered the nation’s high level of recognition for public and private schools. Only 15 schools in California were named 2013 National Blue Ribbon Schools, and just two were recognized from Orange County.

Stonegate is now IUSD’s 14th Blue Ribbon School dating back to the start of the federal program in 1983. (The full list is below.) Principal Stan Machesky, who made the announcement during his students’ popular “Stonegate News” video broadcast, said the designation was particularly meaningful given the steady growth at Stonegate, which has seen its student population and teaching staff double since opening in 2009.

“You’re prideful, but you’re also humble at the same time,” Machesky said. “With the amount of growth that we’ve had with our teachers, as well as our students, it’s quite significant to have continued academic growth and success.”

Hailed for its environmentally-friendly design, which includes inverted-pyramid skylights in each classroom and a reflective “cool roof,” Stonegate was off the charts this year, posting a 963 on the state’s most recent Academic Performance Index, which measures overall achievement on a scale of 200 to 1,000. The campus, which also earned California Distinguished School honors in 2010, was notified in December that it was a Blue Ribbon contender.

Nine months later, it’s time to celebrate.

“The rest of the country just learned what we in Irvine have known all along,” said Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner, president of the IUSD Board of Education. “Stonegate Elementary School is a phenomenal school with an exemplary staff and highly involved families. Stonegate Elementary advances the Irvine tradition of neighborhood schools that meet world-class standards of academic excellence. The success of this relatively new neighborhood school is also a culmination of years of student-focused, diligent planning by the Irvine Unified school board and staff.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of our Stonegate students,” he added. “Well done.”

So how do schools earn the Blue Ribbon designation? Well, it can be done one of two ways:

“Exemplary High-Performing” sites like Stonegate are those that rate among the very best on English and math assessments. Student subgroups at these schools, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, must also perform at a similarly high level.

“Exemplary-Improving” schools are those that are able to demonstrate significant improvement on assessments even though 40 percent or more of their students are from disadvantaged backgrounds. “Disadvantaged” refers to students who are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, those who receive federal Title I services, those who are limited in their English proficiency, migrant students and students who require special services.

Both paths require schools to complete extensive data reviews and exhaustive reports.

“These schools are wonderful illustrations of the work we do here in California schools to prepare our students to thrive in the world they will find outside of our classrooms,” State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said Monday. “I am proud to see them held up as national examples.”

This year’s Blue Ribbon schools will be formally honored in November at a national awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., where each winner will be presented with a special plaque and flag. For more details about the program, check out the U.S. Department of Education’s website on the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

Update from Oct. 7: The Orange County Register has posted a story on its website about Stonegate Elementary’s instructional program and use of technology. (Subscription required.)