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Home / First Avenue Middle School

Arcadia’s First Avenue Middle School named 2024 California Distinguished School

Arcadia Unified School District’s First Avenue Middle School joins an exclusive list of 293 middle and high schools from across the state to earn recognition from the California Department of Education as a 2024 California Distinguished School. 

“A campus beaming with community pride, halls bustling with innovative ideas, and classrooms filled with engaging teaching and learning are just a few of the things that make First Avenue such a special place and very deserving of this prestigious distinction,” Arcadia Unified Superintendent Dr. David Vannasdall said.

In its press release announcing the 2024 California Distinguished School recipients, the California Department of Education explained that its process in selecting schools to be recognized in this year’s program included examining various school performance measures on specific state indicators that are identified in the California School Dashboard’s 2023 reports. Accordingly, schools chosen for this recognition were those that demonstrated excellence and growth in academic achievement and cultivated a positive school climate.

“Being named a California Distinguished School is a tremendous honor and validates the commitment of our students and staff to continuous improvement,” First Avenue Principal Dr. Semeen Issa shared. 

“We strive to provide a well-rounded education that prepares our students for success in high school and beyond. This recognition motivates us to continue to give all of our creativity, thought, and care to ensure educational excellence for our students.”

This First Avenue recognition comes at fortuitous timing for Issa, who has been at First Avenue’s helm as an assistant principal and then principal for a total of 14 years, as she recently announced that she will be passing the leadership torch upon her retirement at the end of the current school year. 

First Avenue Principal Dr. Semeen Issa presenting the school’s vision in a recent presentation. | Photo courtesy of AUSD

“I am incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to serve First Avenue for so many years and to have been able to support and watch my incredible team of educators, counselors, and staff elevate our students’ educational experience school year after school year,” Issa reflected. 

“It has also been one of my life’s greatest joys to work with such talented students and supportive families, and as I close this chapter to begin a new one, I will leave with a heart filled with immense gratitude for all of the memories I have made with the best school community around.”

Among the educators at First Avenue is social science teacher Megan Forbes who was recently recognized by the California Council for Social Studies as “Outstanding Middle School Social Studies Teacher of the Year (Grades 6-8).”

First Avenue Social Science Teacher Megan Forbes teaching from her book. | Photo courtesy of AUSD

Forbes has been teaching in Arcadia Unified at First Avenue for over seven years and is also a published author of “Leaders and Thinkers in American History: An American History Book for Kids: 15 Influential People You Should Know (Biographies for Kids).” In addition, Forbes has aimed to pay it forward to others in the education profession by sharing her experience, tips, and resources with fellow educators and has built a robust YouTube and Instagram followership.

“First Avenue is the oldest school campus in our district, having served Arcadia students and families for over 116 years,” Vannasdall said in reflecting on this recognition and the history of this school campus. 

“Earning this esteemed merit further highlights the importance of continuing to ensure our facilities receive the repairs and upgrades they need to match the world-class teaching and learning happening on the First Avenue campus and in all of our schools.”

Since the CDE’s founding of the California Distinguished Schools program in 1985, every Arcadia Unified elementary and middle school has been named a California Distinguished School at least once. Most recently, all six of Arcadia Unified’s elementary schools—Baldwin Stocker, Camino Grove, Highland Oaks, Holly Avenue, Hugo Reid, and Longley Way—as well as Arcadia Unified’s alternative learning program, Rancho Learning Center, earned historic concurrent recognition as 2024 California Distinguished Schools.  

The California Distinguished Schools Program recognizes elementary schools and middle and high schools in alternate years, which means honorees hold their California Distinguished School title for two years. 

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