Mesquite Trails Principal Dave Stewart kept the good news under his hat. A baseball cap, in fact.

Last Friday, Stewart told his students over the school's public address system that he would be wearing the hat until the assembly later that day. The year before, he had promised students that if the school reached the 800-point mark on the state's Academic Performance Index tests.

"The state goal was to improve five points a year," Stewart said Wednesday. "The students and staff thought that was too low, and we were shooting for 800."

The Hesperia Unified School District is aiming to have all schools achieve an 800-point average by 2010. Statewide, the goal is to reach 800 by 2014. So far in the HUSD, only Juniper Elementary School has crossed the 800-point line, which they achieved last year.

The staff at Mesquite Trails decided to give the students a little extra incentive.

"If we reached our goal, I would dye my hair blonde," Stewart said. "If we reached beyond that, and reached 800, I would shave my head."

Assistant Principal Jennifer Adams didn't commit to shaving her head, but would also be dyeing her hair if the students achieved their goal.

"I announced Friday that I was wearing a hat," Stewart said. "'You'll find out [at the assembly] if my hair is the same, if it's dyed or I'm bald.'"

At the assembly, the hats stayed on for a little while longer.

"We talked to the kids about goal-setting a little bit," Stewart said. "When I announced that we reached our goal, 791, the kids went crazy.

"We unveiled Mrs. Adams' hair first, and she had purple streaks in her hair, to match the school colors."

Then Stewart followed suit, revealing his normally brown hair had been bleached blonde.

"I talked to the kids and said ... 'you'll come back to school next week, and I'll still have this hair. ... I want it to be a reminder of your success.'"

Mesquite Trails went up 36 points compared to last year's API scores, the biggest improvement in the district, although the school still trails Juniper Elementary by 12 points.

"'Do you want to be number two again next year?'" Stewart asked his students. "And they were like, 'no! Number one!'"

API scores are also broken out by sub-group in each schools, and Mesquite Trails did well with all of those, too.

"Our English learners, if they were their own school, would be the third-highest in the district."

The district's overall API average went up 9 points this year, to 700.

Carmel Elementary School went up 15 points, to 745. Cottonwood went up 10 points, to 714. Cypress Academy went up 7 points, to 701. Eucalyptus went up 4 points, to 740. Hollyvale dropped 4 points, going down to 766. Joshua Circle jumped up 25 points, to 766. Juniper lost 9 points, dropping down to 803. Kingston went up 19 points, to 741. Lime Street went up 27 points, to 753. Maple went up 8 points, to 748. Mesa Grande dropped 5 points, to 751. Mesquite Trails, as previously stated, went up 36 points, to 791. Oxford Academy went up 2 points, to 760. Summit went up 4 points, to 738 and Topaz gained 10 points, for a total score of 726.

At the middle school level, Hesperia Junior High School went up 7 points, to 659, and Ranchero Middle School dropped 15 points, ending with an average of 691.

Hesperia High School gained 15 points, for a total of 658. Sultana gained 31 points, becoming the second high school in the Victor Valley to cross the 700 threshold, with a total score of 701. (Serrano High School also made it this year, with a total score of 700.) Desert Trails gained 4 points, to end at 509 and Mojave dropped 46 points, to end at 472.

Stewart attributes Mesquite Trails' success to the hard work of teachers and school staff.

"We've really adopted a 'no excuses, failure is not an option' attitude here," he said. The school had a "ton" of challenges last year, including a flood, a new principal and assistant principal and a major shift in the makeup of the student body. "If things weren't changing, it wasn't normal around here. ... I think it was just a true test of all of our teachers and all of our staff here.

"There would be days where it was complete chaos, but the ladies in the office took care of it, and the students had no clue about it," Stewart said. "The collaborative effort is just unbelievable."

With only 9 points to go next year, Stewart stands a very good chance of being shaved bald this time next year. And he's ready for it, he said.

Bleaching his hair "was definitely a commitment," he said, but it gives him a chance to brag about his school when people ask what happened. "It's good attention, I guess."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.