GONZALES — State Superintendent of Education John White told Ascension Parish educators Thursday their achievements can serve as a model for other districts in the state.

White stopped at East Ascension High School on Thursday afternoon to present nearly $300,000 to 18 schools for high achievement in the classroom.

Sixteen of Ascension’s schools — including all four high schools — were honored as Top Gains Schools, meaning the schools hit their growth targets during the 2011-12 school year, White said.

Seventy-five percent of schools in the state showed some growth in their school performance scores, he said. However, “only a few hit their ambitious (growth) targets,” he added.

Each of the 18 schools received $8,453 to be used for educational purposes at the school, and White presented Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol with a check for $135,261 to be distributed among the schools.

Pujol told a roomful of educators that the honor was a cause for celebration.

“Because of your efforts, the things that you do every day with our students, so many of our schools have grown at phenomenal rates,” she said.

“We don’t take enough time to look back and say, ‘That works,’ because what you do works,” White said.

White praised Ascension Parish as being one of two districts in the state that are on the verge of being “digital-ready” and for being “on the ball from a technological perspective.” He said the district’s emphasis on teacher collaboration and setting ambitious goals has been key to the district’s success.

White also presented the district a check for $150,000 to be used at three schools in the district to serve as “lead innovators” in assisting achievement by students with special needs.

Pecan Grove Primary, Carver Primary and Gonzales Primary schools were among 85 schools in the state to receive grant funds as part of the Education Department’s Believe and Include initiative, which provides $4 million to develop innovative programs to help students with disabilities.

The three schools, which each will receive $50,000, formed a partnership to join in the Power Up initiative aimed at increasing English and math performance of disabled students. The students will receive iPads loaded with educational applications to aid them in progressing toward mastering the Common Core State Standards.

“I’m so thankful for them for being a beacon and light for the rest of the state,” White said.

Pujol, who said she expects even greater results in the district next year, said Ascension Parish officials seek to make sure every student in the district receives a quality education.

“We know that our kids can do whatever it is we expect them to do,” she said.