Laguna Beach School District board members congratulated Thurston Middle School administrators and staff at its meeting on Tuesday evening for being honored as a model school.

The Laguna Beach sixth through eighth grade school is a newly designated model middle school in the Schools to Watch — Taking Center Stage program, the State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced Jan. 3. Thurston was one of only 12 middle schools chosen in the state and only one other Orange County school received the recognition.

"I was thrilled to hear that Thurston got the Schools to Watch — Taking Center Stage," said board member Betsy Jenkins, to great applause in the board room. "It's just like we keep getting such great honors, and to have Thurston singled out was just wonderful."

"It's an honor that your school worked really hard to earn," added Supt. Sherine Smith. "We're really proud of you and all the hard work you put in."

To become a model school, a site must demonstrate "academic excellence, developmental responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, social equity, and organizational support," according to a state press release.

Thurston's Academic Performance Index, or API, — a popular measure of a school's success — jumped from the already extremely high 934 to 944 last year.

API scores are based on state test scores and range from 200 to 1,000 with a score of 800 considered a target for all schools.

Thurston's API scores have consistently increased over the past nine years, despite the fact that it is harder to sustain growth as scores get higher.

Thurston staff had to conduct a self-study evaluation and extensive application process to apply for the program, according to a district press release.

As a model school, Thurston will host local and international school officials looking to improve their own schools by replicating its model.

"Our staff works hard to support each and every student both academically and socially — and it shows," said Principal Jenny Salberg in the release. "I am so honored to work at such an incredible place."

Britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes