Middle Grades Alliance Honors Vista Prep Academy


vista cmga


Red Bluff Union Elementary School District superintendent William McCoy and board trustee Adriana Griffin were recognized by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the California Middle Grades Alliance (CMGA) on Thursday for modeling effective governance and leadership throughout the transformation of Vista Preparatory Academy.

Vista Preparatory Academy (formerly known as Vista Middle School) has been a California GEAR UP school since 2011. The school was reconstituted in 2013 in order to establish a student-centered learning environment that better supported the educational needs of the Red Bluff community and has been largely successful in this turnaround.

The mission of CMGA is to support high quality middle grades education designed to close achievement gaps and ensure success for all students through increasing public awareness, disseminating research and best practices for the purpose of influencing middle grades policy and informed decision-making at the state and local level. CMGA’s selection process for recognizing and celebrating district leadership focuses on the successful implementation of the California Department of Education’s 12 Recommendations for Middle Grades Success.

Red Bluff Union Elementary School District was specifically recognized for the District’s collaboration with the school leadership team at Vista to promote academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and for creating an effective organizational structure where all students can be successful.

The Vista Prep Story

Over the course of three years and with the leadership of a group of committed teachers, administrators, teachers, students, GEAR UP, and community partnerships, Vista Middle School transformed from a failing middle school into a thriving Preparatory Academy. The focus of the transformation: creating a school culture centered around student success as the highest priority. Their story is in progress but the results are already telling.

Let the video tell the story. Shot over three days on location in Red Bluff, CA by Emmy nominated videographer Andy Schlactenhaufen for California GEAR UP.

Special thanks to the Vista Preparatory Academy teachers and community, GEAR UP College Options, and Red Bluff Union Elementary School District.


Holiday Planning: ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan


The ScholarShare College Savings Plan is California’s official 529 plan and a key partner of California GEAR UP. It offers a tax-advantaged way for families to save for the cost of a college education. ScholarShare seeks to serve as a resource for all Californians looking to save for college.

The holiday season is nearly upon us, and with it, the quest for a perfect gift. Your holiday shopping list may be full of the latest toys and gadgets. But remember, you can’t beat a gift that could mean a brighter future for your child. So make a gift contribution or open a new ScholarShare 529 College Savings account for that special child in your life. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, even friends of the family can also open an account or contribute to that special holiday gift that keeps on giving.

ScholarShare is proud to partner with GEAR-UP to increase the number of students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college.

According to a 2012 survey by Hart Research Associates, 84 percent of parents consider it “very important” that their children attend college, but not many have started saving. ScholarShare, named one of the nine best 529 plans in the nation by Morningstar, a prominent ratings agency, is administered by the State of California and managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. Named for the section of the Internal Revenue Code under which they were created, 529 plans offer families a tax-advantaged way to save for college.

Some of the benefits of the ScholarShare plan include:

  • Accounts can be opened with as little as $25.
  • A wide variety of low-cost investment options are offered.
  • There are no annual account maintenance fees.
  • Potential earnings are tax-free if used for qualified higher education expenses such as tuition and fees, books and supplies, and certain room and board costs.
  • Funds may be used at eligible educational institutions nationwide, and some abroad.
  • Anyone can contribute to the account, making it a great gift idea for family and friends.

To learn more or to open an account, visit www.scholarshare.com or call 1-800-544-5248. Like ScholarShare on Facebook at www.facebook.com/scholarshare529 and follow us on Twitter at @ScholarShare529.

Preparing for college academically and financially can help keep students on the path toward success.

Consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing in the ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan. Please visit www.scholarshare.com for a Program Disclosure Booklet containing this and other information. Read it carefully.

Before investing in a 529 plan, you should consider whether the state you or your Beneficiary reside in or have taxable income in has a 529 plan that offers favorable state income tax or other benefits that are only available if you invest in that state’s 529 plan.

The tax information contained herein is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties. Taxpayers should seek advice based on their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. Non-qualified withdrawals may be subject to federal and state taxes and the additional federal 10% tax. Non-qualified withdrawals may also be subject to an additional 2.5% California tax on earnings.

Investments in the Program are neither insured nor guaranteed and there is the risk of investment loss.

 The ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan Twitter and Facebook pages are managed by the State of California.

 TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., Plan Manager

Video: The Power of Relationships for Student Success

vista youtube

Over the course of three years and with the leadership of a group of committed teachers, administrators, teachers, students, GEAR UP, and community partnerships, Vista Middle School transformed from a failing middle school into a thriving Preparatory Academy. The focus of the transformation: creating a school culture centered around student success as the highest priority. Their story is in progress but the results are already telling. Let the video tell the story. 

Shot over three days on location in Red Bluff, CA by Emmy nominated videographer Andy Schlactenhaufen for California GEAR UP.

Special thanks to the Vista Preparatory Academy teachers and community, GEAR UP College Options, Red Bluff Union Elementary School District,

Let us know what you think of the video!


Math Diagnostic Testing Project Videos Have Impact

MATHEMATICS DIAGNOSTIC TESTING PROJECT (MDTP) is an Intersegmental statewide project that develops, distributes, scores, and reports the results of tests that measure student readiness for mathematics courses ranging from Pre-Algebra to Calculus. Based at UC Sand Diego, the project helps California’s teachers better prepare students for further study in mathematics, identifies topics and skills needed for success in mathematics, and brings secondary, college, and university faculty together for cooperative discussions.

MDTP videos were produced to document how MDTP tests are used formatively in classrooms, departments, and schools through interviews with teachers, students, and administrators in their classrooms and offices. MDTP hopes these videos stimulate ideas among mathematics teachers and administrators about the role of formative assessment in their classrooms and schools.

placing students

Placing Students for Success asks administrators how they view and support MDTP use by their teachers. Typical questions were: How are MDTP tests different from other tests? Why do you support the use of MDTP at your school? How does MDTP help with new students? How has MDTP impacted pedagogy and teaching practices? How could a principal use MDTP results to open conversations with her or his teachers?

student strengths

Sharing Strengths and Weaknesses asks teachers how they use MDTP diagnostic tests to coordinate and inform their efforts at a more collective level to shape mathematics teaching, assessment, support and intervention, and other policies. Typical questions were: What has been the impact of MDTP on your department? When teachers discuss MDTP test results, what do they talk about? How do teachers use MDTP to communicate with students and their parents?


Shifting Pedagogy and Focus asks teachers how they use MDTP diagnostic tests to inform and enhance their classroom teaching practices. Typical questions were: How has MDTP helped you in the classroom? What do you find particularly useful about MDTP? Once you receive your MDTP test results for your students, what are your next steps?

If you would like to learn more about MDTP and its diagnostic tests and written response materials and how it supports the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments, please contact a local MDTP site director . She or he will be glad to follow up with you to answer your questions.

These videos have been prepared with the support of the California State University, the University of California, and the California Academic Partnership Program. Copyright 2012 The Regents of the University of California and The Trustees of the California State University.

For a contact list of the MDTP personnel near you, go here.


Sec of Education Honors Everett Middle School With Visit



SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee visited a middle school in the Mission District this morning to call attention to the improvements made in the wake of federal funding to the city’s school district.

Duncan, Lee and other top school officials held a roundtable discussion during a visit to Everett Middle School, one of nine schools in San Francisco that was awarded federal School Improvement Grants in 2011 and current California GEAR UP School.

The historically low-performing schools in the city’s Mission and Bayview districts were given $45 million over a three-year period that went toward professional development and coaching for school staff, among other improvements, according to school district officials.

Since 2008, those nine schools have had an 18.4 percent gain in English language arts proficiency and a 26.9 percent gain in math proficiency, district officials said.

Duncan said he was “absolutely inspired” by the improvements made at Everett.

He said during today’s visit, he talked to an eighth-grader there who “said she was terrified to come to this school as a sixth grader, and now this school has a wait list.”

Lee said the federal funding has helped reduce barriers for low-income students and those who speak English as a second language.

“Once we get rid of those barriers, our kids who come from all over the world will compete on an international basis,” he said.

Duncan said he is working to get more federal funding from Congress, but “they look at education as an expense instead of an investment.”

He said in the meantime, San Francisco can come up with creative ways to maintain funding for the schools, noting that the mayor has sought help from the private and nonprofit sectors.

“People want to be part of a winner,” Duncan said. “We’ve gotten something started and he’s got a heck of a story to tell.”

(excerpts reposted with permission from ABC news)


California GEAR UP schools believe:

  • That ALL students deserve an equitable education – one that provides the knowledge and skills to choose and be successful in postsecondary education pursuits;
  • That students must master rigorous academic standards to successfully progress along the pipleline from middle school to high school and into and through college;
  • That in order for students to plan for college they need to see themselves in college;
  • That overcoming the challenges faced by low-income, first-generation college-bound students requires the continued engagement of school leaders, families and communities.

Youth Leadership Summit Blows the Crowd Away

The flagship program in NCCEP’s Youth Services programming is the Youth Leadership Summit. In an effort to include student perspectives and the opinions of young people, NCCEP created national opportunities for youth to participate in the NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference. More than 200 GEAR UP high school students have participated in the Youth Leadership Summit since the inception of the program in 2003. NCCEP has been partnering with GEAR UP for Excellence to present the Summit since 2005.

Blending leadership development with the experience of participating in a professional conference, the Summit teaches participants how to be advocates for their schools and communities, empowering them to become the voice for their peers. Youth leaders, known as GEAR UP Scholars, work together to compile a Summit report focused on what educators should consider as they design strategies and programs for increasing student achievement.

The culmination of the Summit, and the highlight of the NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference, is the presentation of the report to the conference attendees. For a half an hour, the Scholars are given the stage to voice their opinions and share their ideas. Conference attendees frequently comment that the Summit report brings a fresh and energized perspective that reminds them why they became engaged in the education arena.


Valley High School is Number 1 in California Similar Schools

Click on the image above to view the video!

As many of you who follow this blog know, California GEAR UP works with Valley High School in Sacramento, CA in a unique collaboration that provides the school with innovative resources and support services for students, families, teachers, counselors and administrators to create a community-wide college-going culture.

This year Valley High was excited to announce the remarkable achievement on the statewide API. The API reports include a “similar schools rank.” This information shows where a school ranks on a scale of 1–10, compared with 100 other schools with similar demographic characteristics. California public schools serve students with many different backgrounds and needs. As a result, schools face different educational challenges. The similar schools ranks for 2010 allow schools to look at their academic performance compared to other schools with some of the same opportunities and challenges.

Here are some of Valley’s newsworthy accomplishments:

  • Valley is the Number 1 (non charter) in Similar Schools and demographics in California.
  • Of 100 Similar Schools in California, Valley scored a perfect 10. They are the only non-charter to do so!
  • Valley had the highest API score of any non-charter school and had the 8th highest API overall.

The VHS increases are very impressive even compared to the new schools (Monterey Trails, Pleasant Grove and Franklin) which includes more affluent students who moved to these schools from the Valley area. Valley is one of the oldest schools in EGUSD and it compares very well indeed! GEAR UP has much to be proud of in providing academic support.

–Josephine Blick, Valley GEAR UP academic advisor

These accomplishments come along with more great Valley news: a 24 point increase in API since last year!

Special thanks to principal Keven MacDonald and the Valley High School staff for making these achievements possible. Thanks to Chris Wong for the video production!

GEAR UP: 10 Years of Making a Difference

California GEAR UP Celebrates 10 Years of creating college-going culture across the state of California. Our partner organization, National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, produced a great video highlighting the success of the last 10 years and laying out GEAR UP plan for the future.

Watch the video here:


National GEAR UP Day Video: Valley High School

A million thanks to Chistopher Wong at Valley High School in Sacramento for this great video of our amazing event on September 18, 2009. If you are having trouble viewing the video, please follow the link.

Valley Video Link