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School Recognitions

Blue Ribbon Schools

Since the United States Secretary of Education created the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program in 1982, 12 CUSD schools have won the award, which honors America’s outstanding public and private schools, and encourages other schools and communities to look to them for ideas and inspiration.Now officially called the No Child Left Behind - Blue Ribbon Schools Program, it emphasizes student achievement and academic growth, which are the foundation of the U.S. Government’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.


  • R H Dana (2010)

  • Bathgate (2003)

  • Malcom (2001)

  • Concordia (1999)

  • Moulton (1999)

  • Reilly (1997)

  • George White (1997)


  • Aliso Nigh High (2000)

  • Aliso Viejo Middle (2000)

  • Dana Hills High (1998)

  • Newhart Middle (1994)

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Gold Ribbon Schools

Vista del Mar Elementary and Carl Hankey K-8  were two of the first elementary schools in the state to receive the California Gold Ribbon Schools Award. Since the Department of Education temporarily halted its Distinguished Schools Program, Gold Ribbon is the new designation created to honor high achieving schools. 

In order to be considered for the Gold Ribbon, a school has to show exceptional progress in implementing California's rigorous new state standards in English and math. In addition, the institution must offer a program that "includes standards-based activities, projects, strategies, and practices...which can be replicated by other local educational agencies." In other words, Gold Ribbon schools should serve as exemplary models that other schools can observe and follow.

  • 2017
    • Ladera Ranch Middle School
  • 2016
    • Carl Hankey K-8 School (Elementary)​​
    • Vista del Mar Elementary School
  • 2015
    • ​​Carl Hankey K-8 School (Middle)


Gold Ribbon Schools

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Golden Bell Award

The California School Boards Association bestows the prestigious Golden Bell Award upon programs shown to be highly effective and innovative. CUSD winners include:


1996 — Kids in Community Service – Malcom

1997 — Project Japan
          — 7th Inning Stretch at Shorecliffs Middle School
          — CORE Level Testing Program

1999 — Reading Advancement and Development Program
          — Support Team Achieving Real Solutions

2001 — CAFÉ Program
          — Capistrano Professional Development Academies

2002 — Young Adult Program
          — Auto Academy at San Clemente High School

2003 — Club in the Hub at Marco Forster
          — Mind Institute Program at Oak Grove Elementary School
          — Health and Medical Occupation at Dana Hills High School

2004 — Learning Link

2005 — Project Compel
          — Teaming for the Learning of All Children

2006 — CUSD Safety Program
          — PEP Physical Education Program

2007 — Capistrano Autism Program: Best Practices Today for 
              Future Success

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NAMM Award

Two High Schools Recognized for NAMM Award

Tesoro High School and South Orange County School of the Arts (SOCSA), which is housed within Dana Hills High School, are recipients of the Support Music Merit Award, the highest accolade offered by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). Capistrano Unified School District is proud to have two high schools selected for this impressive honor.


Artist Director Ray Woods believes that SOCSA's "comprehensive and expanded music program has a strong, positive effect on every student at Dana Hills High School." Woods praised the consistent support of the community in addition to the SOSCA's carefully crafted curriculum, which includes regular workshop and performance opportunities. Tesoro High School has a rich tradition of musical excellence, having garnered many state and national awards over the years. In the words of Tesoro choral director Keith Hancock, "We strive to offer a wide variety of high-quality musical experiences for our students, and our community is incredibly supportive of our efforts." Both SOCSA and Tesoro have worked hard to enrich education with meaningful musical programs; their national recognition is well deserved!

According to a recent study by Northwestern University, music is a key ingredient to successful learning. Having tracked and evaluated student performances for years, NU neuroscientist Dr. Nina Kraus states that, "music can fundamentally alter the nervous system to create better learners." Researchers at Tufts USC, UCI, and UCSD have been conducting similar surveys and finding comparable results. The government has become more aware of the benefits that music can offer; in December of 2015, it enacted federal legislation to reflect this shift. The new "Every Student Succeeds Act" (ESSA) emphasizes the importance of music and the arts in a well-rounded educational program.


Although ESSA makes the future look brighter for students, meaningful change takes time. Fortunately, private organizations have stepped in to help sustain music education in the meantime.  In 2006, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) launched its foundation to "advance active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving, and public service programs." Hoping to foster increased opportunities for people to participate in live music, the NAMM Foundation evaluates music programs in public schools. During its review process, NAMM looks at schools' instruction time, facilities, funding, and community music-making programs. Only 118 schools in the nation were able to meet NAMM's stringent criteria; CUSD is thrilled to have two of them. Our district makes it a priority to support the arts!

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Capistrano Unified School District Again Ranked as one of California's Top Districts

The 2018 rankings released this month rank elementary, middle and high schools as well as school districts. According to, Capistrano Unified School District ranked #37 out of California's 474 districts, and #7 in Orange County. CUSD earned an overall grade of A from Niche, earning an A- in academics and diversity, and an A+ in teachers and college prep and B- in clubs and activities; and B+ in health and safety.

To arrive at these rankings, Niche looked at data from the U.S. Department of Education as well as test scores, college data, and ratings collected from Niche users. The methodology for each category of ranking varied.

Niche assigns a standardized score for each factor, which is then weighted before an overall score is calculated for each school district. The overall scores are again standardized and some districts are disqualified from receiving a final letter grade if there isn't enough data. School districts are then ranked numerically and assigned grades.

Niche's data for its K-12 school district rankings comes from various sources including the U.S. Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics and the Civil Rights Data Collection. The rankings also rely on data that is self-reported by Niche users and schools. 



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