Orange County Middle Schools: Teachers At Pioneer Middle School Earn Top County Marks By Making Sure “No One Falls Through The Cracks”

california-distinguished-school2Five years ago, Pioneer Middle School was a “good” school. It boasted solid standardized test scores, motivated and involved students, and a diverse palette of non-academic offerings.

But administrators at the Tustin school believed Pioneer had the potential to be one of the best public middle schools in the nation, an academic powerhouse where all students achieved at their personal best and no one fell through the cracks.

They shared this ambitious vision with the faculty and, working as a team, began the hard work of radically changing the school’s culture.

“We had always been a good school for most students, but we decided we wanted to be a great school for all students,” Principal Mike Mattos said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we create a system that guarantees every kid gets that experience?’ ”

Pioneer’s staff took the next few years to develop and refine a series of customized, targeted intervention strategies that would catch every student and maximize use of the instructional day.

Today, no one falls through the cracks at Pioneer – they simply can’t, teachers say, and test scores prove it. Pioneer’s Academic Performance Index score, an overall gauge of a school’s scholastic showing, has shot up by 70 points over the past five years, to 938, and the school received a coveted federal Blue Ribbon award last year.


Orange County Students Benefit Academically In Kindergarten Through Eighth-Grade Schools Which Bring Continuity And Lower Rates Of “Suspensions And Expulsions”

A 2004 study by the RAND Corp. suggested that converting all schools to kindergarten through eighth-grade campuses would lead to higher test scores and less misconduct.

Students tend to feel less attached to the traditional middle school model because they know they won’t be there for more than two or three years, the study concluded. Having students stay at a school longer helps create stronger relationships between the students and the school.

And when conduct issues rise, academic success plummets. The Register middle school report shows that 25 of the 29 schools earning medals rank in the top half of schools with the fewest suspensions and expulsions. Nineteen of the 21 schools with the highest rates of suspensions and expulsions failed to earn a medal.


(Excerpts from OC Register Article)

Other studies have linked drops in test scores among adolescents to less time spent reading, having more overall independence, and a decrease in parental involvement in students’ education.

“Middle schools are key to the development of students,” said county Superintendent William Habermehl. “Children often begin to form their identity as students with the variety of new classes and freedom they are given. It’s the first time much of the responsibility for learning falls on their shoulders.”

Orange County’s middle school students also outperform local elementary students in English, 58 percent to 56 percent, but the younger students take the lead in many other categories

The average API score for the county’s middle schools is 810; elementary schools average 817. Math scores also drop – 53 percent for middle schools, 63 percent for elementary. And among English learners, elementary school students outperform their older colleagues by 10 to 18 percentage points.

One place where middle schools score higher? Suspensions and expulsions, at an average of 13 per 100 students compared with two for elementary schools.


Fountain Valley 92708 Features Top Orange County Middle School Harry C. Fulton Middle School, 2008 Academic Performance Index = 904

2008 API = 904

“The mission of Fulton Middle School is to promote academic excellence and establish a lifelong foundation for success in a safe learning environment. The focus is on the unique needs of middle school learners as they transition from elementary school and move toward the challenges of high school.”

8778 El Lago Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Office 714-375-2816 FAX 714-375-2825 


Tustin 92782 Is Home To Pioneer Middle School, Honored As 2008 National Blue Ribbon School


2008 API = 936 

“Validated by the U.S. government is a great honor,” said Mike Mattos, the principal at Pioneer, where the API has increased by 70 points over the past four years.


“We have made a commitment that we did not just want to be a good school, we wanted to be a great school for all kids,” he said.  (Orange County Register)



Pioneer Middle School opened in the fall of 1999, the first new middle school in the Tustin Unified School District in over 25 years. The opening of Pioneer greets the new millennium with designs and built-in technologies that make it one of the finest middle school facilities in the nation.

Middle school sets the stage for a student’s future as an adult. It is a critical link to the student’s successful transition to high school and higher education. Pioneer teachers and support staff work in partnership to provide a rigorous and challenging curriculum. To meet the developmental needs of students, we provide a core of standards-based curricula in reading/language arts, mathematics. history/social science, science, and physical education. Both instruction and instructional materials are state-of-the-art grounded in research-based practices.

The curriculum of Pioneer Middle School encourages students to become inquisitive learners, to grasp a wide variety of academic skills, and to become productive young adults. Pioneer students meet high expectations in today’s basic skills of reading/language arts, mathematics, science, social science, and to read, write, and speak clearly, persuasively and appropriate, and also listen actively. Pioneer provides programs for special needs students and for students at-risk of retention. GATE/honors classes, high school level of algebra, geometry, and foreign language classes are offered. Students may also choose an elective curriculum that includes computer technology, video production, drama, art, music, industrial technology, consumer education, publishing, and leadership.

Students, staff, and parents are actively involved in school activities. Parents are partners in the middle school experience and are encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities for them to participate. Pioneer Middle School continues the Tustin tradition of a community rich in heritage and committed to excellence. Pioneer is proud of the place it has taken the greater Tustin community.

Pioneer Middle School, a 2003 and 2007 California Distinguished School and National Blue Ribbon School finalist, is an exciting learning community where every student has amazing opportunities for achievement. When Pioneer students enter their campus, they find beautiful state-of-the-art classrooms and a warm welcoming staff. A robust array of activities inside and outside the classroom makes every student feel important and connected to the school.

Set in the beautiful Tustin Ranch, our school has an award-winning design that sets the stage for learning and fun. The central quad is where students gather before, during, and after school. Throughout the day, you can feel the energy and spirit of our 1,325 Pioneer Wildcats in this safe, supervised area. Our classrooms, computer lab and A/V facilities offer learning tools that were unavailable just a few years ago. Other facilities at Pioneer include immaculately maintained sports fields and a track, along with a 17,000 square foot gymnasium – the focal point of our best in class athletic program, which is a finalist for the Governor’s Challenge Fitness Award.

Our staff is distinguished by their subject matter expertise, professionalism and dedication to teaching. As a group, we constantly challenge each other to create a community of learners and to find ways to maximize every student�s academic potential and personal responsibility. Our high test scores reflect the staff’s dedication: the school’s API report shows steady and sustained growth in student achievement. The overall 2006 API score increased by 8 points, going from a base of 915 in 2005 to 923 in 2006. This is among the top 1% of California schools. Our CST and STAR scores reflect similar phenomenal levels of student achievement.

Our school’s top-tier academic performance is not based purely on excellence of academic instruction. We believe having a strong school culture makes the difference between good and great student achievement. That’s why everyone at Pioneer talks about “The Pioneer Way” and why character education is woven into all our activities, inside and outside the classroom. This year, our students’ outstanding community service projects have been recognized through a Milken Family Festival for Youth Award. At Pioneer, caring for each other and our community is part of becoming responsible young adults.

Pioneer is truly a special place to learn and to be a part of a vibrant, exciting community. I am extremely proud to be a part of the success of this wonderful place.

Mike Mattos , Principal