Carmel Elementary School has been recognized as one of the top public schools in California.


Carmel has been named a Title I Academic Achievement school -- meaning that despite a high number of socio-economically challenged students, the school has excelled academically. Out of more than 6,000 public schools in California that receive Title I funds under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, only 200 received the academic achievement award, including a total of 10 in San Bernardino County and five in the Victor Valley.


"Basically the school has to make all of the [state and federal testing] targets," sand Principal Chris Mauger. "You have to exceed them by a pretty big deal."


Not only does the school as a whole have to meet the ever-increasing federal testing standards, the school's economically disadvantaged students must have doubled the school's achievement targets for two years in a row.


Carmel scored 782 on the Academic Performance Index based on last April's tests, an improvement of 38 points. (The Hesperia Unified School District has a target of 800 API scores for all schools by 2010.)


State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell called Mauger himself to give the principal the news.


"I vaguely knew this award existed," Mauger said. "I had honestly no idea what [Jack O'Connell] could be calling me about in Hesperia. ... If that award means that much to him, obviously it means a lot to us."


Mauger credits the team culture at the school for Carmel's continuing academic success.


The staff has "just systemically [created], over time, a positive school culture where kids and teachers want to be here," he said.


"If I need some advice, almost anyone on campus is willing to give it," said fourth grade teacher Carmen Oldenkott. "This is my fifth year teaching. This is my first school. I've always been at Carmel and I've always been very comfortable, even in my first year."


"We have good morale at this school," said fourth grade teacher David Olsen. "Everyone is pulling on the same end of the rope."


Carmel will formally receive he award at a ceremony in April.


Hesperia Star intern Courtney Looper contributed to this story.


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