What was once a district plagued with academic struggles and dropping enrollment rates is now an academic leader.

South San Independent School District is making history on the south side with two campuses earning record numbers of academic distinctions.

"We've increased our distinctions from 21 to 24 as a district. It's just really exciting," said Delinda Castro, chief academic officer of South San ISD.

For the first time ever, South San High School earned three distinctions from the Texas Education Agency in Math, English, and Science.

"I had people who weren't in certain content areas jump in to help. We were rearranging schedules to help. We worked afterschool tutorials, Saturday tutorials," said Dr. Lee Hernandez, executive principal of South San High School. "It takes a community to get these types of things done, so everyone had all hands in. So just the hard work. The blood, the sweat, the tears if you will."

Also a first, Carrillo Elementary School earned all six distinctions.

"Lesson planning is prescribed for the needs of the students. So following that and the teachers being vested in getting the help from our instructional coaches, that really gets them a foot forward so they can really help the students with what they need," said Bernadine Martinez, principal of Carrillo Elementary School. "That does show that South San is taking a big step forward and we're making a mark."

Each year, the TEA releases their accountability ratings report.

If a school met standards and went above and beyond to achieve gold stars, it can earn an academic distinction in reading & English language arts, math, science, student progress, closing achievement gaps and post-secondary readiness. Social studies is included for middle schools and high schools.

"At 90 percent poverty, we are the only one who's met standards all three years. All schools meeting standard all three years," Castro said. "We believe all kids should learn at high levels. It shouldn't matter what their zip code is. It shouldn't matter what their income is."

The high school has an early college academy, and they're reopening the Health Science Academy. The district is also looking into "choice academies" like business, STEM, or fine arts at each middle school.

"Having a goal for students, and before they leave class, they have to show evidence of their learning. That right there has really helped focus our teachers on their standards, high quality instruction, how it needs to be delivered, and how we ensure students are learning," Castro explained. "We're kind of like this hidden gem, and I hope this encourages more folks to come to the south side."

The news comes as the district is preparing for the upcoming academic year and anticipates the distinctions will serve as a boost to student confidence as they return to classrooms on Monday, August 21.

South San ISD has also consolidated schools at the elementary level and middle school level.

Students from Athens Elementary School will now go to Price or Carrillo Elementary. Kazen Middle School students will go to Zamora or Dwight Middle School.

Teachers from Athens have also moved to Carrillo Elementary School.

The district is hoping the distinctions will also help enrollment rates. A charter school opened down the street, causing enrollment to drop at South San ISD.

"We care. Our kids know that we care," Hernandez said. "Within that care, kids build that confidence to try to achieve as high as they can achieve."

District administrators say that the abandoned school campuses will likely house organizations or groups dedicated to serving the south side community.