RMCHS students take pride in Distinguished School award

Reedley Middle College High School once again earns state recognition for excellence as a 2024 California Distinguished School

Reedley Middle College High School Principal Josh Darnell and senior Sam Badilla smile on the RMCHS campus, which is situated at the back of the Reedley College campus, March 7, 2024. Badilla said being named a 2024 California Distinguished School lets students know they made the right choice in attending the charter school. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published March 9, 2024  • 
11:00 am

REEDLEY – With back-to-back California Distinguished School awards under its belt, there is no middle ground when it comes to academic excellence at Reedley Middle College High School.

The California Department of Education (CDE) announced the 293 secondary schools named as 2024 Distinguished Schools on Feb. 29; RMCHS, which was established in 2012, won its first recognition in 2021. For students at the small school nestled in the back of the Reedley College campus, this award is proof that their hard work stands out, Principal Josh Darnell said. 

“It’s really important to see that recognition from the state of California — not just from our district, from our county, but the entire state of California Department of Education — recognizing the hard work that they’ve put in, our students and staff,” Darnell said. “(It’s) the satisfaction of knowing that others recognize how hard they’ve been working and their accomplishments.” 

This year’s award is technically a back-to-back recognition, because the Distinguished School award is given to primary and secondary schools in alternating years. The CDE did not recognize any schools in 2022 due to the suspension of performance reporting requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  In 2021, neighboring Reedley High School also received the recognition. Current RMCHS senior Sam Badilla said that while RHS is a great school, there is a healthy rivalry between the two student bodies, and “it feels good to be recognized for all the hard work that we do.” 

“Of course they work hard too, but it feels good to know that we’re taking the step ahead to take college classes while in high school, and it feels good to be recognized for that,” Badilla said. “It’s a thing of pride for our school.” 

Badilla noted that both times RMCHS has won the award have come after the charter school switched from an interview-based process for acceptance to a lottery system. This allows any current eighth grade student to gain acceptance into RMCHS, regardless of their grades or behavior in middle school. 

For Badilla, this shows that it’s not just students who did well in middle school who can be successful at RMCHS, “it’s people from all types of different areas of success levels in middle school that decide to take the leap and come here,” he said.

“Even though they didn’t do so well in middle school, because of the lottery system, they’ve been able to have success here, and it shows with our distinction,” Badilla said.

Making the right choice

Approximately 75 ninth grade students are accepted into KCUSD each year and are split between an agricultural business pathway and a general education pathway. Students take college courses through Reedley College concurrently during their entire time at RMCHS, and even begin in the summer before their first year. 

Whether students choose to pursue a full associate’s degree, get a transfer certificate to a four-year university or just rack up credits, Darnell said RMCHS students average more than 60 units of college credits by the time they graduate. 

With that kind of workload, Darnell said he thinks parents and students alike appreciate the recognition that comes with the Distinguished School award, “because they feel like they’ve made the right choice for where to send their kids.” 

“The students are taking a lot of college courses, and so I think with so much effort that goes into that, it is good to be recognized both as students and also as parents, that … all that stress is worth it when you see the recognition they earn as a school — and individually when they graduate from the college,” Darnell said. 

RMCHS does not have the same extracurricular activities or programs that the other comprehensive high schools within KCUSD have, and so it can be difficult for students to decide what they want their high school career to look like. 

When the school is recognized for its excellence, however, Badilla said that lets him know he made the right decision for himself. 

Darnell said that he feels RMCHS prepares students not only for college or a career, but for life. Badilla, who has plans to attend a four-year university and has already received multiple acceptance letters, said he’s a lot less scared to go to college than he would be otherwise.

“I feel ready for college; I’m excited to go on, and go learn and be a part of those communities, because I’ve been able to do that here at Reedley College and see what college really has to offer,” Badilla said. 

Becoming a Distinguished School

The award is part of the CDE’s California School Recognition Program (CSRP), which according to the CDE website includes a series of distinct events that give “exceptional schools and school leaders the opportunity to gather and share their model programs and practices.” 

Schools are identified for the award based on data reported through the 2023 California School Dashboard, which shows school performance on state indicators across multiple measures, such as graduation and suspension rates and the number of students who meet grade-level standards on state assessments. 

According to a Feb. 29 CDE press release, schools are recognized with the award for either closing the achievement gap or demonstrating exceptional student performance.

With an enrollment of 233 students, RMCHS had a 100% graduation rate and ELA and math indicators above the state standard, according to the RMCHS 2023 Dashboard report. RMCHS was also listed as being 100% prepared on the college and career readiness metric, and 72.5% of its student body comes from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Darnell credited the work RMCHS does with Reedley College as one reason for its success. He said RMCHS staff continuously work with Reedley College to improve and modify their programs to make sure they are meeting the needs of their students. 

Additionally, Darnell said RMCHS students have a lot of pride in the work they do and their success. 

“When some students go to college, they just want to pass; our students don’t just want to pass, our students want to pass with an ‘A,’” Darnell said. “They want to excel in what they’re doing, and so just coming here is not enough for them. They really want to excel enough that they’re recognized either individually or as a school for the hard work that they’ve put in.”

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter