Thirteen campuses in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties won California Distinguished Schools honors for 2013, the state Department of Education announced Thursday.
The local middle and high schools are among 218 public campuses statewide recognized for their innovative approaches and academic achievement.
To qualify, schools must show growth in Academic Performance Index scores among their overall and disadvantaged student populations. Schools must also submit two innovative practices designed to improve academic achievement, which were then observed by teams of educators during the selection process.
"These schools have gone the extra mile to provide high-quality instruction that puts their students on the right path toward career and college," state schools chief Tom Torlakson said in a statement. He called the results inspiring "given the enormous challenges schools have faced in recent years."
At West Campus High School in Sacramento, one of the award winners, Principal Greg Thomas said the school's practices focus on creating a college-going culture and on broadening access to Advanced Placement courses.
"We start from Day One," Thomas said. "When (students) come in, we give presentations."
"We're a college preparatory high school," he added. "That's why you're coming here. And part of that is you're going to have to do those things (that will help you) apply to a four-year college."
For those who need or want more structured help, he said, after-school tutoring is available in science, math and English.
And teachers are asked to identify students they believe will do well. Those students are encouraged to sign up for college preparatory classes.
"The last six to seven years our district has provided PSAT (Preliminary SAT tests) for our sophomores" so they can be better prepared in later years, he said. "Now we're encouraging our 11th-graders to take it also. Last year, 90 percent of our juniors took the PSAT."
Elsewhere in Sacramento County, San Juan Unified schools Andrew Carnegie Middle, Mira Loma High and Rio Americano High campuses were named California Distinguished Schools. Natomas Charter also was honored.
In Placer County, Robert C. Cooley Middle and Warren T. Eich Intermediate made the list.
Schools recognized in El Dorado County included: Union Mine High, Miller's Hill, Edwin Markham Middle, Marina Village Middle and Pleasant Grove Middle.
In Yolo County, recognition went to Da Vinci Charter Academy in Davis.
Schools receiving the Distinguished Schools designation agree to share their innovative practices and to mentor other schools. The Department of Education did not provide examples of the practices that 2013 award winners submitted, but it intends to update its searchable database later this spring to include those ideas.
Elementary and secondary schools compete for the recognition in alternate years. In 2014, the state will award honors to California elementary schools.