Mike Mattos, principal •
Pioneer Middle School • Tustin, CA
Pioneer Middle School
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins asks, "Why try for greatness? If you're doing something you care that much about, and you believe in its purpose deeply enough, then it is impossible to imagine not trying to make it great. It's just a given. Greatness is not a function of circumstance....it is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline." Three years ago, the staff of Pioneer Middle School faced this very choice...would we settle for being a good school for most students, or would we be a great school for all students? With an unquestionable passion for our students and learning, our staff's decision was "a given". Collectively, we worked with the Pioneer community to create our current mission: To maximize every student's academic potential and personal responsibility. This singular purpose is firmly grounded in our fundamental belief that all students can learn at high levels. We believe it is not merely our job to teach; instead, it is our steadfast responsibility to ensure that all students learn. While our mission is quite simple in concept, its creation and implementation has proven to be powerful and dynamic.
To ensure high levels of learning for all students, we work collaboratively as a professional learning community to identify essential standards, share best instructional practices, create common assessments, and analyze student assessment data. Failure is not an option, so we have developed a "Pyramid of Interventions" to provide additional time and support for all students. We meet weekly with at-risk students to monitor progress and to provide additional help if needed. Because our mission is to maximize every student's academic potential, our focus extends beyond assuring grade-level proficiency, and challenges students to master more rigorous curriculum. Over half of our students take accelerated level coursework, including honors language arts, geometry, foreign language, and science. At Pioneer, it is "cool" to be smart, to help others, and to take pride in your school. Last semester, almost half our students received Principal's Honor Roll (3.5 GPA or higher) and over 900 students were recognized for their school achievement.
While academic success is important, we also believe that middle school should be a place for all students to explore new disciplines, to experience new opportunities, and to have fun learning. To this end, all students set quarterly, "REAL Wildcat" goals for academic achievement, extra-curricular involvement, exploration, leadership, and service. Currently over 100 students participate in student government, over 700 students in our fine arts programs (band, orchestra, chorus, art), over 800 students in our sports programs, and over 1000 students in academic competitions. Grade-level programs transition our students from the nurturing attributes of elementary school to the flexible and age-appropriate expectations of future high school students. Eighth grade mentors meet weekly with our sixth grade students to teach them the "Wildcat Way", helping to prepare them for success at Pioneer, in high school, and beyond.
Steadily, we are making our mission a reality. Over the past two years, Pioneer's state test scores rank in the top three middle schools in Orange County and top 2% in the state. Recently, Pioneer was named a 2007 California Distinguished School. While our staff is honored by these recognitions, what we most celebrate is the knowledge that we are ensuring the learning and future success of our students.