Along with early and consistent intervention for at-risk students, Petree says the accelerated math program introduced by school Principal Robert Duncan last school year has been a successful way "to get the kids excited about math" at Sunflower.
Team that with pioneer science programs, the VIPS science program that has students engaged and an energetic accelerated reading program and Petree figures you've got many of the ingredients that make her school the success it is.
For sixth-grade teacher Blanca Jimenez, the school's strength is in the strong communication among staff members and the willingness to help each other.
Jimenez concedes teachers at Sunflower are "somewhat competitive."
"We always compare our test scores with other schools and yes, we are competitive with other schools but not in a negative way. I think we're competitive in a sense that we want to make our kids the best they can be, but we also care a lot about our kids. You can be competitive and just care about scores; but we really care about the kids as well."
Spend a few minutes in the company of Duncan as he walks around campus and it's easy to gauge the pride he has in his staff and students.
"The process of applying to be considered for the award is a lengthy one and we started this process back in October when our district superintendent, Dr. Klentschy, suggested it. We got everyone involved in the process; parents, teachers, aides, custodians — all were part of the process."
In the workup stages of the application, large sheets of butcher paper were put up on the cafeteria's walls and everyone who was part of the process was asked to detail their teaching programs and strategies, Duncan explained.
"Then we had a team detail all that in a proposal and that was submitted as one part of the process."
Each school asking to be considered for the award was visited by a study team from Sacramento and Petree says the team visiting Sunflower was impressed with the character education program in place at the school.
"Other schools typically have a student of the month program but at Sunflower we felt that was extremely elitist … a lot of kids for whatever reason will never win that award."
From the time Sunflower first opened its doors, the school has had a "desirable character trait competition" in place and in Petree's words, "With this program, every student has a chance of winning."
Another area that impressed the educators from the capital was the "makeup" of the student body, according to Petree.
"They said the make up of the school was very unique because we have a great mix of children here. We have children from different countries, we have children with learning disabilities and children with physical disabilities and special day classes. They were impressed with our ‘all-encompassing' mix of students."
And as for the teachers — did they mind the extra time it added to their already busy schedules to participate in the application process?
"No, we were not pressured into doing this. We did it because we wanted to and Mr. Duncan made it very clear we had a totally free voice in the process," Jimenez said.
There are no tangible "rewards" for being a winning school, no monetary gains or even a free computer or two thrown in to sweeten the deal, but Duncan says the reward lies in the recognition, the "validation" in his words, that comes to everyone who has worked hard to make Sunflower a successful learning environment.
>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or firstname.lastname@example.org