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Alisal USD wins Golden Bell Award

Alisal USD earns Golden Bell Award for Extended Learning Program

SALINAS, Calif. — School days don’t end for students at Alisal Union School District when the bell rings at 2:40 pm. For hundreds of them, a seamless transition takes place when they remain safely on campus to learn music, sports, folklorico dance, or even finish their homework. 

The quality and richness of the program has not just attracted the attention of local leaders but earned a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association, a distinction that is reserved for the most noteworthy programs in education at the state level. 

Mr. Koenig and Board Clerk Mr. Fernando Mercado received the award on Thursday, Dec. 1, during the annual conference of the California School Board Association.  Alisal USD was one of 52 recipients of California’s leading educational honors, the Golden Bell Award. The Golden Bell Awards, celebrating their 43rd year, are presented by the California School Boards Association to promote excellence in public education and school board governance by recognizing outstanding programs and governance practices. The awards reflect the depth and breadth of public education programs as well as the governance decisions that facilitate the services required to meet students’ changing needs.

A judging panel of experts from school districts and county offices of education across the state reviewed written entries and made initial recommendations. On-site validators then reviewed the recommendations and assessed the programs in action. This year’s Golden Bell winners demonstrated that they are addressing student needs through areas such as equity and access, school climate and safety, technology, and wellness.

“The District is heavily invested in the safety and well being of all its students; and an important avenue to keep students safe is to keep them in school after hours with quality instruction. When Alisal students play mariachi and drums, dance folklorico, or play volleyball or football, they learn important socioemotional skills in a safe environment, skills that will serve them in their academic and personal lives,” Superintendent Jim Koenig said. 

The Alisal is home to a large immigrant, farmworking community, where resources are scarce and the number of adults available to supervise children is limited. In 2013, Alisal USD leaders realized students needed to have opportunities that would enhance their learning in the classroom, and Alisal trustees tasked staff with developing a program that would address the dearth of enrichment opportunities. This was at a time when gang violence was at its peak in the city and the need to engage children in healthy after-school activities was not just an academic imperative but also a matter of life or death. 

The program began with two after-school drumline classes at two schools through a partnership with the Alisal Community Arts Network. The following year, a partnership was secured with YoSal, a local non-profit organization affiliated with world-renown El Sistema for teaching classical music instruction to underprivileged youth. While music instruction was popular, it became clear that music lessons weren’t for everyone, and staff continued to look for different enrichment opportunities. The program has grown to include programs in STEM, sports such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, flag football, and performing arts that are culturally relevant to the students such as folklórico dance, drumline, and mariachi. 

In 2018, then Program Director Alicia Fletcher earned the “Safety and Peace Award” from the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace for her role in developing a program that keeps East Salinas safe. While the programs had to be delivered online during the pandemic, in-person meetings resumed in 2021, and they continue to flourish now under Program Manager Rosa Carranza. 

“Every time we see our All Star Drumline and Color Guard march through Oldtown for community celebrations, we are reminded that investing in our youth brings great benefits to them and great pride to all of us. This award confirms that the District’s investment is not going unnoticed, and that together with our partners the Alisal Community Arts Network, Tonatiuh Danzantes del Quinto Sol, Hartnell College and many others, we are transforming the Alisal into a place of art, safety and beauty,” Superintendent Koenig said. 

Alisal Union School District serves an estimated 7,500 students in Salinas, California. More than 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, and more than 61 percent of students are English learners. 

The Golden Bell Award is presented each year by the California School Boards Association to school programs that promote excellence in education and school board governance. The California School Boards Association is a not-for-profit organization that represents the elected officials who govern public school districts and county offices of education. With a membership of nearly 1,000 educational agencies statewide, CSBA brings together school governing boards, and administrators from districts and county offices of education to advocate for effective policies that advance the education and well-being of the state’s more than 6 million school-age children.

“As we wrestle with the aftermath of the pandemic and address longstanding issues related to student success, it’s important to highlight school districts and county offices of education that demonstrate promising practices for closing opportunity and achievement gaps and supporting student wellness,” said CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. “This year’s Golden Bell winners have developed remarkable programs that can serve as an example for schools across the state as they work to accelerate learning recovery and foster healthy school environments for all California students. To learn more about the Golden Bell awards and all the winners, visit the program’s website at

Posted Dec. 9, 2022