For the second year in a row, McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica has received the Title I Academic Achievement Award (AAA) from the California Department of Education.

McKinley is the only school in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to receive the award this year. Last year, Edison Language Academy also received the Title 1 AAA Award.

“It’s very exciting for us here at the school,” said McKinley principal Irene Gonzalez. “All of our staff have been working so hard.”

“I think it validates what we know — that we’re a hardwork-ing school, that we’ve had a lot of success,” said Susan Suomu, who has been a teacher at McKinley for ten years. “It’s a nice honor.”

District Superintendent Dianne Talarico said she was “so proud” of McKinley.

“I just think that to get this award once is a huge accomplishment, but to get it two years in a row truly validates the tremendous amount of high quality instruction that’s going on there for all students,” Talarico said.

McKinley vice principal Jessica Rishe felt the same way.

“It’s such a nice recognition that there’s growth over time — that it wasn’t just a one-time thing,” Rishe said. “It’s a really solid recognition.”

To receive the award from the California Department of Education, Title 1 schools must meet rigorous criteria.

Schools must exceed what is called the “Adequate Yearly Progress” for two or more years or significantly “close the achievement gap among numerically significant subgroups within the school community,” said California Department of Education officials.

In addition, schools must also have doubled their Academic Performance Index (API) growth target for two consecutive years, and meet a designated median score in both English and mathematics, according to the state officials.

For McKinley and other elementary schools, that score is 758. By 2010, the goal for the State of California is to have all schools’ Academic Performance Indexes at 800.

“And we’ve already passed that, so it’s very exciting,” said Gonzalez, who has been with the school district for 15 years.

McKinley’s Academic Performance Index was 862 for the 2005-06 fiscal year. In the 2004-05 school year, it was 855.

“Our API scores are continuing to increase,” said Gonzalez. “It’s really validating for our school.”

McKinley is making good progress toward closing the achievement gap, Gonzalez said.

“Our English language learners are achieving at the same level as many of our English-only students in math,” Gonzalez said, as an example of the school’s work in closing the achievement gap.

Gonzalez, who calls McKinley her “second home,” is proud of the 393 students there.

“The students have really committed to making every minute count,” she said.

“We’re really proud of the kids,” said Suomu. “We’re really proud of the hard work they’re doing.”

Gonzalez, Suomu and Rishe also like the diversity at McKinley.

“We have a great mix of students, not only ethnically, but linguistically, and that really contributes to our rich school en- vironment and the culture,” said Gonzalez. “I think it really makes a big difference.”

The diversity “is really one of my favorite things at McKinley,” Suomu said. “We just have a rich body of students that we can learn from. I love that.”

Thirty-nine percent of the McKinley students are Hispanic, 38 percent Caucasian, ten percent Asian, nine percent African American and one percent Filipino.

Although McKinley has students of mid-income and high-income levels, 49 percent of the student body falls in the lower income bracket, which qualifies McKinley as a Title I school.

Title I schools receive Title I money, the largest single federal funding source for education.

“We receive extra funding from the federal government,” Gonzalez said. “Without that funding, we wouldn’t have instructional assistance, a community liaison who works on parent outreach, a special after-school program. We wouldn’t have these [and other] programs at the school. We feel so fortunate.”

There are four Title I schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu district — McKinley, Edison Language Academy, Will Rogers Learning Community, and John Muir Elementary School. All are elementary schools.

McKinley has 22 teachers and about 75 staff members, including instructional assistance, classified staff, office, library, computer, custodial and after-school child staff, Gonzalez said.

“The success we have at the school is a combination of staff effort and parents,” said Gonzalez. “It’s a very collaborative staff, and I really feel our parent body has been really supportive. We really believe parent involvement equals student success. We’re committed to making sure that all students achieve at McKinley.”

Rishe said she has never worked with such a great, collaborative instructional team.

“It’s a tight team of support for students,” she said.

In addition to receiving their second consecutive Title I Academic Achievement Award this year, McKinley is also celebrating its 100th year.

“We’ve worked hard for many years,” said Suomu. “There’s a really great feeling right now at McKinley. We’re really proud of our school.”

Information, www.mckinley