Across the state, 90 schools were recognized for their improvements in academic achievement and graduation rates.

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Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School, which has increased its graduation rate by 25 percentage points  since 2011, has for the first time won a state School of Distinction award, joining 90 other schools judged tops in the state for improvement.  Thirty-six of those schools are in the Puget Sound region.

The awards go to schools in the top 5 percent when it comes to raising academic achievement over five years in reading and math (for elementary and middle schools) or graduation rates (for high schools).

In 2014, 79 percent of Rainier Beach seniors graduated with a diploma, higher than the district average of 74 percent. Only 54 percent of Rainier Beach seniors graduated in 2011.

The school’s relatively new International Baccalaureate program, which prepares students for college-level work, is credited with both helping raise the school’s enrollment and its improving graduation rates.

Along with Rainier Beach, Seattle’s Cleveland High was also recognized for graduation-rate improvements. Eight Seattle elementary schools and two middle schools earned the distinction for sustained improvement in their scores on state English-language arts and math exams.

Cleveland High and Olympic Hills, Thurgood Marshall and Wing Luke elementary schools are repeat winners. First-time award winners in Seattle include Hazel Wolf and  Broadview-Thomson K-8s; and BF Day, K-5 STEM at Boren, Rainier View, Viewlands and West Seattle elementary schools.

Seattle principals cited extracurricular activities as well as a focus on academics as reasons their schools improved. At West Seattle Elementary, for example, teachers and staff members lead before- and after-school activities to better fulfill the needs of the students, said Principal Vicki Sacco, who teaches knitting as an extra-curricular activity.

“All of this contributes to a positive school culture, a sense of community and belonging, strong relationships  and high levels of student and staff satisfaction,” Sacco said.

Tacoma’s Lincoln High School, where 2016 Washington Teacher of the Year Nathan Gibbs-Bowling teaches, also was named a School of Distinction for the first time. And Tacoma’s Wilson High School was one of two schools in the state to receive a School of Distinction award for the fifth time.

Other Puget Sound schools that received the distinction:

Auburn: Evergreen Heights Elementary

Bellevue: Phantom Lake and Stevenson elementary schools

Bethel: Centennial Elementary

Clover Park: Carter Lake, Evergreen and Tillicum elementary schools, Mann and Woodbrook middle schools and Harrison Prep School

Federal Way: Technology Access Foundation Academy

Highline: North Hill Elementary

Lake Washington: Redmond Elementary

Renton: Honey Dew, Lakeridge and Talbot Hill elementary schools

Riverview: Parade Program

Shoreline: Briarcrest and Lake Forest Park elementary schools, Cascade K-8 Community School

Tacoma: Geiger Montessori, Helen B. Stafford and Thorndyke elementary schools

Seattle Public Schools had the highest number of schools on this year’s School of Distinction list, while the Clover Park School District in Pierce County had the second highest, with six schools.

The award, in its ninth year, is given by the Center for Educational Effectiveness in partnership by the Association of Washington School Principals, Association of Educational Service Districts, Washington Association of School Administrators and the Washington Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.  A full list of the 2015 Schools of Distinction is available here.