What Makes a School “Distinguished”?


Dixon High School, in California’s rural Central Valley, was just named a “California Distinguished School” in recognition of its sustained delivery of “rigorous education for all students and progress in narrowing the achievement gap.” For those of us who have worked with the Dixon faculty and administrators to implement Reading Apprenticeship, the award hardly comes as a surprise.

Since 2001, Dixon High has made Reading Apprenticeship its signature professional development initiative. Every teacher learns how the Reading Apprenticeship framework applies in disciplinary instruction. Literacy instruction is a shared responsibility across the school.

The difference this schoolwide commitment makes was immediately palpable to Dixon faculty. After the first year of Reading Apprenticeship implementation, English teacher Lisa Krebs observed the changes in this way:

It’s interesting, all the benefits of reading. You never really connect reading with the litter on campus, or reading with attendance. Even my desks were cleaner, like there wasn’t time to doodle. There’s physical evidence that they were more mentally engaged. It starts with reading, but it’s really about how kids feel about themselves, and their own abilities and their own power.”

In 2000, Dixon High School had been labeled “underperforming” by the state. In 2011, Dixon cited the ongoing importance of Reading Apprenticeship in the school’s application for “distinguished” status:

Reading Apprenticeship permeates our academic curriculum, from humanities courses to the electives. Most teachers, regardless of field, see themselves as reading teachers and work diligently to help their students access complex and pertinent texts.

For nearly the past decade, Reading Apprenticeship has enabled Dixon High School students to become more proficient and confident readers throughout their studies.”

Gayle Cribb, a Dixon history teacher who helped draft the school’s application, describes the steady growth in student achievement for all students at Dixon, and especially for Latino and low-income students, as a concerted effort by teachers to respond to students’ potential and to make good use of the support they were able to draw from Reading Apprenticeship:

As a school, we were highly motivated to turn things around. We cared about our students and we had pride in our own professionalism. Together, the faculty and administration decided to make literacy a schoolwide focus, so then it was a question of finding a literacy approach that felt right. We were drawn to the Reading Apprenticeship framework because it really honors who students are and can become. The professional development worked for us because it has parallel respect for teachers, it takes us seriously.”

Dixon High School is what we like to call a Reading Apprenticeship “classic.” It is a gratifying example of how a powerful vision of students and teachers can result in powerful learning.

To read more about Dixon High School or to view a video excerpt from one of Gayle Cribb’s history classes, see Dixon’s story on the Success Stories page of the Reading Apprenticeship website.

Blog contributor, Ruth Schoenbach

Ruth Schoenbach is Co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. She taught and led reform initiatives in the San Francisco public schools in the 1980s and early 90s as an ESL teacher, curriculum developer, and professional development support provider in literacy. Since the mid-90s she and Cyndy Greenleaf have led the Strategic Literacy Initiative (SLI) at WestEd in developing the Reading Apprenticeship instructional framework and its parallel professional development model.

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2 Responses to “What Makes a School “Distinguished”?”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Gratifying to see what can happen with a strong collective vision and sustained, high quality professional development.

  2. barbara duhl Says:

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes! I know how effective RA is and I have always believed that sustained schoolwide implementation makes an enormous difference for students (and teachers). Congratulations to all of you who have been involved in this project! I’m so excited that RA is getting recognition and is greatly expanding its reach!

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