RMS Distinguished School Award
Ross Middle School honored with prestigious state award

March 5, 2024

Emilie J. Ross Middle School has received one of the highest honors in California. The Hughson Unified campus has been recognized as a 2024 Distinguished School by State Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmand.

“We are so excited for the Ross Middle School staff and students,” said Hughson Superintendent Brenda Smith. “It is a testament to the work that the staff does each day to form positive relationships with students so they feel safe and empowered at school.”

Ross is one of 293 middle and high schools across the state – and one of only three in Stanislaus County – to earn the prestigious award. The other local schools are Gregori High School in Modesto and Ceres High School.

The Distinguished Schools Award was created in 1995 as a way “to celebrate exceptional schools, districts, teachers, and classified employees for their innovation, talent, and success in supporting students,” according to a California Department of Education (CDE) press release.

The CDE uses multiple measures to identify eligible schools based on their performance on the state indicators as specified on the California School Dashboard. Schools were selected by analyzing data reported through the 2023 dashboard, with a focus on demonstrating excellence and growth in academic achievement and ensuring a positive school climate.

Smith said Ross was recognized for closing the achievement gap caused in large part by the learning disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21.  Ross improved in all areas measured by the dashboard -- decreasing suspensions; improving chronic absenteeism; improving scores for English learners, students with disabilities and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged; and raising math and English scores.

Ross Principal Mary La Rosa said there were many factors leading to the award, one of which was the creation of “Pack Time” three years ago – which sets aside time each week to allow teachers to give extra attention to sixth, seventh- and eighth-graders at risk of falling behind. She also credited the Ross staff for creating a positive learning environment and fostering a culture of learning for students.

“Last year, our staff focused on literacy standards and created a task force to help pinpoint areas we needed to focus on before our students took the (state tests),” La Rosa said. “So, I don't believe it is just one thing but a multiple of areas that we continue to work on each day to help boost our students both academically, socially and emotionally.

“We want to be the WHOLE package for our students and families who are entrusted to our care. We still have work to do, and we will continue to learn and reflect. I am incredibly proud of the entire staff at Ross Middle School. We make a great team, and it shows.”

Smith echoed La Rosa’s praise of the Ross teachers and their impact on students.

“The instructional staff are meeting the needs of all of our learners. They have made amazing progress with our students who are coming through a very disruptive time in their education,” Smith said. “This is validation for the effort that everyone at Ross Middle School makes on a daily basis.”

Fox Road Elementary received the Distinguished School Award in 2006 and Hughson High School in 2013.

All the 2024 California Distinguished Schools will be honored at a ceremony at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on May 3.