It's been a running theme at Mesquite Trails Elementary School the past year: A silver medal is nice, but they really wanted to strive for the gold.

Last year's Principal for a Day last spring, Bryan Clay, won the silver medal in the decathlon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, talked to the students about coming in second-best to Juniper Elementary School, the Hesperia Unified School District's highest-scoring school on the state's Academic Performance Index testing last year.

"He said 'hopefully, after this year, both of us will be number one,'" said Mesquite Trails Principal Dave Stewart, formerly a world-class decathlete himself, and Clay's training partner.

With hard work and a can-do attitude, both Clay and Mesquite Trails made it come true. Clay won the gold medal in Beijing on August 22, becoming the first American to win the gold in the grueling 10-discipline event in 12 years.

And Mesquite Trails students leapt over their counterparts at Juniper, becoming the second school in the district, after Juniper, to reach the 800-point benchmark stressed by both the state and district.

Mesquite Trails students raised their average of the students' scores on math and language arts tests by 9 points on the tests, taken in April 2007.

"They've been really excited about succeeding," Stewart said. "We talked a lot last year about being the number two school. I would always say 'show me you're the number one school.'"

Last year's success earned the students a reward, when Stewart and Assistant Principal Jennifer Adams each dyed their hair, he a brilliant blonde and she with purple streaks, to match the school colors.

This year, Stewart unveiled his new look: bald down to the skin.

"I think the kids were very happy, to say the least," he said. "I got the point across that the real reward was their success and meeting their goals, and this was just the topping on the cake."

In an era with tight budgets and many poor and non-English-speaking families, neither Mesquite Trails nor Juniper had been swinging at slow pitches when the school communities had hit their home runs.

"I think it takes a shift in the culture; an 'I can' attitude is definitely important," Stewart said. "We don't want to put a limit on what we can do."

Overall, the district raised its average by 14 points to 714. The HUSD is committed to a goal of all schools reaching an 800-point average on the test by 2010.

Carmel Elementary School went up 38 points, to a score of 782. Cottonwood Elementary School went up 12 points, to 728. Cypress Academy went up 56 points to 757. Eucalyptus Elementary School dropped 7 points to 734. Hollyvale Elementary School went up 15 points, to 786. Joshua Circle Elementary School went up four points, to 776. Juniper Elementary School dropped five points, to 799. Kingston Elementary School went up 10 points, to 752. Lime Street Elementary School went up two points, to 758. Maple Elementary School went up nine points, to 762. Mission Crest Elementary School got a 741 in its first year of testing. Oxford Academy went up 21 points, to 782. And Topaz Elementary School went up 13 points, to 740.

At the middle school level, Cedar Middle School got a 725 in its first year of testing. Hesperia Junior High School went up four points, to 663 points. And Ranchero Middle School went up 28 points to 719.

At the high school level, Hesperia High School went up eight points, to 666. Sultana High School went up 13 points to 714. And Mojave High School received a 563 score, up 91 points from last year's 472.

With the 800-point threshold crossed, and first place in the district achieved, Stewart and the Mesquite Trails Eagles have another benchmark they're working on.

"I think the highest score that Juniper had on record was 814," as an early estimate of test scores by the state, which is common in the testing process. "We're looking for 15 point growth to get to 815."

The school's success has been a team effort, Stewart said, and it goes beyond the teachers and staff at the school, or even the students.

"I don't see a plateau for us any time soon," he said. "Talk about a change in culture with the parents here. They know we're part of something special. ... Their support of us has gone up tremendously, and when you've got the support of the parents, that makes our jobs here so much easier."

Former athlete Dave Stewart relies on the philosophy of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden as much as he does any educator's.

"If you do the right thing, you work hard, at the end of the day you can say 'we worked hard,' good things will be a byproduct of that," he said. "The focus is really on the effort and doing good things for kids, and the test scores are a product of that."

As for next year's reward, if the students break that 815 mark and become the highest-scoring school in the Hesperia Unified School District's history, the Eagles have some ideas already.

"All of the kids started screaming about me wearing a dress," Stewart laughed. "They started chanting 'wear a dress, wear a dress!'"

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