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Two Downey Unified Schools Named 2020 U.S. Best High Schools

Downey and Warren high schools named top high schools in nation by U.S. News & World Report

Downey and Warren high schools have been named 2020 U.S. Best High Schools in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report. This ranking includes data on more than 24,000 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Downey Unified’s comprehensive high schools were in the top 17 percent of all high schools nationwide, ranking No. 3,666 (Downey High) and No. 4,222 (Warren High).

At the beginning of April, U.S. News & World Report, the global authority in education rankings, announced the 2020 Best High Schools – a new, revamped edition of the rankings, providing the most comprehensive evaluation of America’s public high schools ever produced by U.S. News.

“The Best High Schools rankings provide the most comprehensive, data-based information on nearly every public high school in the country,” said Anita Narayan, managing editor of Education at U.S. News, in a release published by U.S. News & World Report on April 21, 2020. “Families can use this information to see how their local schools compare on graduation rates and state assessments, as well as academic performance by students who are traditionally underserved.”

The 2020 Best High Schools rankings take a holistic approach to evaluating schools, looking at six factors: college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth and graduation rates. Specifically, college readiness measures participation and performance on AP and IB exams.

“Our vision is to graduate all students with a 21st Century education that guarantees they are college and career ready,” expressed Downey Unified Superintendent, Dr. John Garcia. “Having our two comprehensive high schools ranked in the top 17 percent nationally is a testament to the amazing work we are doing here in Downey Unified, not just at the high school level but district wide as well.”

The Downey Unified School District has 13 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools and one adult school that are led by the district’s vision. Students are taught 21st Century skills that implement technology, collaboration, communication and citizenship. The offerings that are available to Downey Unified students continue to increase each year due to various state allocated program-specific budgets and grants, such as the LCAP and most recently the K12 Strong Workforce grant.

Some examples of offerings that can be found in Downey Unified that are unique from surrounding districts include: Kindergarten through 12th grade robotics; the Femineers program, an engineering program that focuses on engaging middle and high school female students; and over a dozen industry-aligned pathways and courses that are available to high school students that provide them with real-world, hands-on work experience as well as third-party industry certifications. Included in these pathways are state-of-the-art classrooms and facilities that allow students to practice these skills using the equipment and software that is currently being used by industry professionals. For example, students enrolled in the automotive engineering pathway spend their time working under the hood of cars that that are stationed in repair bays that are equipped with the latest automotive technology.

The Best High Schools rankings are available exclusively on and include data on a variety of factors, such as enrollment, student diversity, participation in free and reduced-price lunch programs, graduation rates and the results of state assessments. U.S. News worked with RTI International, a global research firm, to implement the comprehensive ranking methodology.


Three Downey Unified Schools Named 2020 California Distinguished Schools

Price, Ward and Williams elementary schools honored by California Department of Education

Three Downey Unified elementary schools have earned the designation as California Distinguished Schools. At the end of December, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced that 323 elementary schools from across California, which include Downey Unified’s Price, Ward and Williams elementary schools, are being honored under the 2020 California Distinguished Schools Award Program. Sponsored by the California Department of Education and presented by California Casualty, the program recognizes outstanding education programs as well as practices, and schools are awarded for closing the achievement gap and achieving exceptional student performance.

“These outstanding schools don’t just educate students; they also provide the young people of California with the tools they need to be successful after graduation,” Thurmond said in a news release. “Thanks go to all the staff at these schools – teachers, administrators, classified employees – and parents, who are working together to provide high-quality educational experiences for all of their students.”

This is the second time that Price Elementary has earned this designation and the third time for Ward Elementary School. Downey Unified has had 14 schools from across the district receive this honor, these schools include: Warren High School (2013); Alameda, Price, Unsworth and Ward elementary schools (2010); Carpenter, Rio Hondo and Unsworth elementary schools (2006); Stauffer (formerly West) Middle School (2005); Old River, Pace and Rio San Gabriel elementary schools (2004); Doty (formerly East) and Griffiths middle schools (2001).

Distinguished School awardees represent examples of not just excellent teaching, learning, and collaboration, but also highly successful school climate efforts ranging from real-time conflict resolution to positive behavior intervention.

The California Distinguished Schools Program took a hiatus from 2015 to 2017 due to the time required for California to transition to new assessment and accountability systems.  During this time, the California Gold Ribbon Schools Award was created to have a program focused on honoring schools while the designation of Distinguished School was unavailable. Over this three-year break, Downey Unified had at least one school selected for this award each year. These schools include: Doty Middle School and Warren High School (2015), Old River Elementary (2016) and Griffiths Middle School (2017).

A component of the California School Recognition Program, the Distinguished Schools program recognizes schools based on performance and progress on the state indicators as specified on the California School Dashboard. Indicators include test scores, suspension rates, and conditions and climate. Elementary schools and middle and high schools are recognized in alternate years; therefore, awardees hold the title for two years.

These California Distinguished Schools, along with California Exemplary Arts Education Schools, National Blue Ribbon Schools, National Terrel H. Bell Awardees, and National ESEA Distinguished Schools, will all be honored on Feb.10, 2020, during an awards ceremony at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. For more information, please visit the CDE California School Recognition Program web page.


Downey Unified Recognized for High Achievement in Student Success

Eleven Downey Unified Schools Selected for Prestigious Honor Roll issued by a National Campaign of Business and Education Leaders

It was announced in June that many Downey Unified schools have been selected by the Educational Results Partnership (ERP) as 11 of the 1,831 public schools in California to receive the title of 2018-19 Honor Roll School. This program, sponsored by the Campaign for Business and Education Excellence (CBEE), is part of a national effort to identify higher-performing schools and districts that are improving student outcomes.

The schools within Downey Unified that have received the title of 2018-19 Honor Roll School are: Doty Middle, Downey High, Gallatin Elementary, Griffiths Middle, Lewis Elementary, Price Elementary, Rio Hondo Elementary, Stauffer Middle, Unsworth Elementary, Warren High and Williams Elementary.

The 2018 – 2019 Honor Roll is developed by ERP, a nonprofit organization that applies data science to help improve student outcomes and career readiness. ERP maintains the nation’s largest database on student achievement and utilizes this data to identify higher-performing schools and districts. Schools that receive the ERP Honor Roll distinction have demonstrated consistent high levels of student academic achievement, improvement in achievement levels over time, and a reduction in achievement gaps among student populations.  For high schools, the ERP Honor Roll recognition also includes measures of college readiness.

“We are so proud to be recognized by leaders in the California business community by having 11 of our schools named ERP Honor Roll Schools,” said Downey Unified Superintendent, Dr. John Garcia. “Our teachers, staff and administrators work tirelessly to keep the focus on high expectations, student academic achievement and continuously improve our practices. This hard work and dedication is paying off for all of our students.”

“The Honor Roll is the only school recognition program in California based solely on objective achievement data,” said Marilyn Reznick, ERP’s board chair. “Schools don’t even know they’ve earned the honor until we tell them. Our goal is to guide other educators to data-informed best practices for raising student achievement.”

“ERP is all about improving educational equity and promoting career readiness for all students, regardless of their family income, background or ZIP code,” said James Lanich, Ph.D., ERP president and CEO.  “These Honor Roll schools and districts are living proof that our students can succeed when schools are committed to removing educational obstacles and accelerating student success. By focusing attention on these bright spots among our schools, we hope to change the conversation from ‘what’s wrong’ to ‘what’s working,’ and encourage others to replicate their success.”

In California, the ERP Honor Roll is supported by numerous businesses and organizations, including the Campaign for Business and Education Excellence (CBEE) Macy’s, Enterprise Holding Inc., the Auto Club of Southern California and Wells Fargo.

To access the ERP Honor Roll, visit


Downey Unified Named CHARACTER COUNTS! Exemplary School District

Downey Unified announces national designation after years of spearheading Character education program

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, Downey Unified held a CHARACTER COUNTS! (CC!) Coalition Meeting where numerous community partners were in attendance to hear an update on CC! and how this program is incorporated daily across the school district. During this meeting, an official announcement was made that Downey Unified has been designated as a national CC! Exemplary School District. This recognition comes after over a decade of implementing this Character Education program districtwide.

We are proud to designate the Downey Unified School District with the prestigious honor of attaining the designation of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Exemplary School District,” expressed Scott Raecker, Executive Director of the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University, which is the global home to the CHARACTER COUNTS! initiative. “The Ray Center is proud to continue to work with the Downey Unified School District to maintain CHARACTER COUNTS! Exemplary School District status in the years to come.”

Downey Unified has reinstated a multi-year commitment for a continued integration of the CC! framework that includes significant faculty/staff training, student leadership engagement, parent connectivity, utilization of classroom resources, special projects and community engagement. Downey Unified will continue to provide CC! Pursuing Victory With Honor professional development to all coaches as a tool to impart strategies to help implement character development into their work with student athletes.

In addition, over the next three years Downey Unified will select Character Champions at each school who will have the opportunity to participate in one-day professional development sessions focused on specific aspects of character development based on the needs of teachers and schools.  The district will also receive monthly support provided by CC! Master Trainers so that staff have a continuous stream of resources and information to use across Downey Unified.

Joining Downey Unified’s Board of Education and staff where City of Downey Mayor Blanca Pacheco, Downey Police Department Chief Dean Milligan and Captain Leslie Murray, Downey Fire Department Chief Mark Gillaspie, as well as members from the Downey Foundation for Educational Opportunities, Downey Family YMCA, ASPIRE, GOOD and the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Prior to the announcement being made, attendees heard a presentation from Downey Unified’s Senior Director of Student Safety, Wellness and Engagement, Dr. Robert Jagielski.  Dr. Jagielski presented on the latest CC! happening within the schools as well as what Character Education looks like on a daily basis.


Three teachers from across Downey Unified were recognized by the Downey United Masonic Lodge 220 at the Board of Education’s monthly meeting held on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. This annual award, which first began in 1964, is presented to a teacher from each level in the Downey Unified School District. This year’s Masonic Teacher of the Year recipients are Lacy Atlas, Kathleen Carter and John Glaister.

Beginning at the elementary level, Lucy Atlas, a fifth-grade teacher at Old River Elementary School, was selected for her unwavering dedication to the success of every student. Beginning her teaching career in Downey Unified at Gauldin Elementary School in 1986, Atlas then transferred to Old River Elementary School in 1997 when the school was first opened.  She currently assists in the GATE program, the Gator Glee and has coached students in the Carnival of Champions for the past 25 years.

“Ms. Atlas is humble yet determined to do the right things and to do right by our district, our school and our students,” proudly expressed Old River Elementary School principal, Caryn Jasich. “She knows that the support she provides is essential in helping students build the confidence they need to navigate this ever-changing world we live in.”

Kathleen Carter, a Social Studies teacher at Doty Middle School, was chosen as the second Masonic Teacher of the Year representing the middle school level. Previously an ASB Advisor for three years, Carter started at Doty Middle School in 1994 when it was still named East Middle School.  Due to family priorities, she accepted a part-time position at the Downey Adult School assisting in the GED diploma program, then in 2013 she rejoined the Doty staff.  Carter is the co-chairperson for the Social Studies Department and played a key role in assisting the school in receiving the state and national Schools To Watch designation.

“She incorporates new teaching strategies and integrates new technology that she finds effective in always improving student learning,” stated Brent Shubin, principal of Doty Middle School. “Mrs. Carter is a shining example of what being an outstanding educator is all about.”

Selected from the high school level, Art teacher John Glaister from Columbus High School, was the final Downey Unified teacher to be honored. Glaister has been a teacher at Columbus High for 15 years, teaching art and acting as an ASB Advisor. He provides support across the district, helping elementary schools by making classroom sets of student whiteboards and creating signage for various rooms. Glaister is also active in the Downey community assisting in building book boxes around the city while the public library is closed for renovations.

“Above all Mr. Glaister is an example for all on campus,” began Columbus High’s principal, Anthony Zegarra. “He helps in any way he can to make Columbus the best place for all who enter our doors every day.”

All three of the Downey Unified teachers that were awarded the Masonic Teacher of the Year exhibit qualities that direct students down a path that leads them to be citizens of strong character and globally competitive, while providing them with the appropriate tools to be both college and career ready.


Doty Middle School celebrates selection as California and National “Schools to Watch”

In February, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced that 16 new high-performing California middle schools have been recognized in the 2018–19 Schools to Watch-Taking Center Stage program.  Included in this Schools to Watch cohort is Downey Unified’s Doty Middle School.  These high-performing model schools demonstrate academic excellence, social equity, and responsiveness to the needs of young adolescents.

“These middle schools make a great impact on students, and I want to thank the staff, administrators, teachers, and parents at these schools for ensuring all students get the education they need to realize their potential,” Thurmond said. “These schools study and support students’ needs, which helps close achievement gaps and creates a better future for these young students.”

On March 13, 2019, Doty Middle School will be holding a celebration at 1 p.m. for staff, district leaders, school board members, local officials and dignitaries in honor of the California designation as a 2018 Schools to Watch-Taking Center Stage model middle school. In June, Doty Middle School will also be recognized in Washington DC as a National Schools to Watch.

“We are honored to have received this recognition,” said Doty’s Principal Brent Shubin. “Our staff and students have worked very hard to make Doty Middle School a place where students can thrive.”

Doty Middle School joins last year’s National Schools to Watch designees, Griffiths and Stauffer middle schools.

“This ceremony is an affirmation of the fantastic work so many have done within our school, our Board of Education, the district and even our larger community,” proudly expressed Superintendent, Dr. John Garcia.

California’s Schools to Watch-Taking Center Stage program uses a competitive, rigorous review process to identify high performing, high impact middle schools so that all middle schools may have models of real-world success.

To earn this designation, schools must complete an extensive application that is reviewed by middle grades experts. In order to retain the designation, each school is re-evaluated every three years. All of the schools will be recognized in Sacramento at the California Middle Grades Alliance annual luncheon on March 14, 2019. For more information about the program, please visit the CLMS High Performing Middle School Models webpage.

The Schools to Watch program is sponsored by the California Department of Education, California League of Middle Schools (CLMS) and the California Middle Grades Alliance.


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