Principal Cynthia McCarty said Wednesday she was proud of the students and the staff, describing the award as "a huge highlight of our year."
"This was a school that was not performing and now we have closed, and continued to close our achievement gap," she said.
Cerritos earned an API score of 875 in 2013, a drastic 122 points higher than its 2008 score and well above the state's API target of 800.
On campus, educators work closely with students to set goals and intervene when necessary. McCarty also makes herself accessible to parents who regularly visit with her in her office.
"We have an understanding of not just the academics. We get to know our families," she said.
At the other two distinguished schools, invested educators and parents alike also appear to be a common theme.
At Edison Elementary — an advanced technology magnet and home to a Spanish dual-language immersion program — Principal Carmen Labrecque said a large part of the school's mission is building relationships with its students.
"I want it to be a place where kids love learning," she said.
In the magnet program, students create podcasts, games and projects using 3-D animation.
"They're really being able to produce quality work that's preparing them for the future," she said. "I think that's what sets us apart from a lot of elementary schools… our teachers are using technology. They're not afraid of it."
At John Muir Elementary, Principal Juanita Shahijanian said her school's success is in teachers knowing their students and their needs and maintaining rigor in the classroom.
The teachers' partnership with parents also factors in heavily.
"The support of the parents is also priceless," she said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.
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