Christy Flores, right, a fifth-grade teacher talks about Kevin Rafferty, the principal of Davis Magnet School, during a goodbye celebration on Wednesday. At left is the Anaheim Ducks mascot Wild Wing. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / October 24, 2012)

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Costa Mesa's only magnet school came together Wednesday morning to celebrate its founding principal on his last day of work.

Davis Magnet School Principal Kevin Rafferty was honored for bringing Newport-Mesa Unified School District's science, math and technology-focused school to fruition and creating an environment of successful learning.

The efforts helped boost the school's performance on standardized tests, the Academic Performance Index, by more than 200 points. API scores jumped 136 points the first year and climbed another 25 points the second and 43 points in the third.

"Not only did you lead by example, but you taught us how to be better educators and also better people," said fifth-grade teacher Christy Flores.

Parents, students and teachers gathered before flag deck to say farewell. Pupils gave Rafferty a book several inches thick recounting the impact he had on their lives.

"I'm sad because he's been a great principal, and he's going to be in my memory," said fourth-grader Miles Marquez.

Representatives from the Anaheim Ducks, along with mascot Wild Wing, honored Rafferty for sharing his love of hockey with students via the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. program.

Costa Mesa Middle and High school principals Phil D'Agostino and Aaron Peralta made surprise appearances along with Mesa's cheerleaders and marching band. They even played the fight song from Rafferty's alma mater, USC.

Kurt Suhr, the school district's director of elementary education, recognized Rafferty's leadership and the "tremendous work and effort" it took to create the magnet school.

"I want to thank you for all the time and effort you put into Davis Magnet School," Suhr said.

Rafferty thanked his family for supporting him. His two teenagers (a third was away at college) were his pupils at his previous school and he always acted like they never left.

"I lead as a principal like you guys are my own kids," he said.

Although Rafferty is moving on to serve as vice president of education for Teacher Created Materials and Shell Education, the school sent him off in the tradition reserved for sixth-graders graduating to middle school: running through "tunnels" made up by standing parents and students.

He ended his final flag deck with advice:

"Do your best, do what's right and treat each other as you would want to be treated," Rafferty said.

Cal State Long Beach professor Alex Morales will serve as interim principal.

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes