GECA named 2019 Calif. Distinguished School

High School students attend classes on Gavilan campus

Dr. TJ Owens Early College Academy was among 162 middle and high schools recognized as a 2019 California Distinguished School by the State Dept. of Education, according to a Feb. 25 announcement.

The program recognizes outstanding education programs and practices. Schools are awarded for achieving exceptional student performance for two consecutive school years or closing the achievement gap between two school years.

“I would like to commend these schools for fighting for a better future for our students, closing achievement gaps, and improving academic performance,” State Supt. of Schools Tony Thurmond said. “Thanks to teachers, administrators, classified employees, and parents working together, these schools meet the needs of all of their students, provide high-quality educational experiences, and put kids on a pathway to great careers.”

A component of the California School Recognition Program, the Distinguished Schools program was on a three-year pause while California transitioned to its new assessment and accountability system.

From 2015 to 2017, California recognized schools that demonstrated exemplary achievements with the California Gold Ribbon Schools Program. The Distinguished Schools program returned last year. It recognizes elementary and middle and high schools in alternate years and allows eligible schools to apply once every two years. Schools recognized as awardees hold the title for two years.

Schools that applied were eligible based on their performance and progress on the state indicators as described on the California School Dashboard. Indicators include test scores, suspension rates, and graduation rates. Schools were also eligible to apply for a California Exemplary Program Award in Arts Education, Physical Activity and Nutrition Education, or Career Technical Education—which will be announced at a later time.

Distinguished School award winners represent examples of not just excellent teaching, learning and collaboration, but also highly successful school climate efforts ranging from real-time conflict resolution to positive behavior intervention, according to staff.

GECA, which was established in 2007, was one of only 10 schools within Santa Clara County that garnered the state’s top honor. It was awarded the California Distinguished School designation in 2013 as well. The school is an educational partnership between Gilroy Unified School District and Gavilan College, and is funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

GECA was among the top 25 high schools in California, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best High School Rankings. The Gilroy Unified School District school was awarded a gold medal for its accomplishment as the 23rd best in the state out of a pool of 2,100. It was also ranked 172nd among 20,500 public high schools evaluated across the country by the U.S. News & World Report.

To be considered for GECA, prospective students must submit an application, which must include school records (academic transcript, current year grade report/progress report, disciplinary records and attendance records); a copy of California CAASPP Test Results, two complete Student Assessment and Recommendation forms from current English and Math teachers); student essay; and parent essay.

In addition, students must take the PSAT and submit those results to the school. An in-person panel interview is also part of the process along with a writing portion with a quick write prompt.

Application packets can be found at

“If you apply for this innovative, highly supportive and academically challenging program and are selected to attend, your four years of high school will be spent on the Gavilan College campus,” according to the school description. “In four years, you could graduate from GECA with not only a high school degree, but also an AA/AS or 60 transferable college units. That means that one could enter the UC, CSU or private four-year university of your choice with your first two years of college fully or nearly completed.”