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School Cited as One of Best in State : Agoura Hills Graduates Celebrate Award

Times Staff Writer

There was more than the usual youthful pride and exuberance Thursday evening when eighth-graders at an Agoura Hills junior high school staged their end-of-school ceremony.

Hours before the 430 Lindero Canyon Middle School students had marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” in front of parents and friends federal education officials in Washington, D.C., named their school one of the top four junior highs in California.

That evaluation has followed months of reviews, interviews and inspections by state and federal education officials in charge of the 3-year-old National Secondary School Recognition Program.

In Agoura Hills, they discovered a school of 1,100 students with a principal who break-dances with them but who sets tough homework requirements.

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The program judges schools and picks superior ones to be role models for less-successful schools in each state. Officials looked for academically challenging curricula, community involvement, campus discipline and student enthusiasm.

There was plenty of the latter Thursday night.

“I think we deserved the award. We kids feel very conscientious about our school,” said 14-year-old David Shanaman.

Judi Williamson, also 14, praised her teachers. “They’re really caring. They’re always helping us out. We can always talk to them about anything and they’ll help us.”

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The federal and state evaluation teams found that Lindero Canyon’s teachers enforce tough standards for such things as homework assignments and classroom discipline. Sixth-graders face about five hours of homework a week; by the eighth grade, the average homework load is eight hours a week, with assignments often given five nights a week.

The result has been a steady increase in achievement-test scores. Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills tests have shown advances in reading, language arts and math at all three grade levels in recent years, despite classroom budget cutbacks encountered by the Westlake Village-based Las Virgenes Unified School District.

But Norma Carolan, an analyst with the state Department of Education in Sacramento, credited principal Joe Nardo with pushing Lindero Canyon to the top of the list of 140 California campuses nominated for the recognition. Nardo, 46, of Newbury Park, is the administrator who break-dances with students and lets teachers help make campus decisions.

“The day I was there for an on-site inspection, the kids had no idea who I was or why I was there. They’d say ‘hi’ to Mr. Nardo and he’d answer them back by name,” Carolan said Thursday.

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There are 1,600 public junior high schools in the state. The others cited Thursday were Rosemont in Glendale and schools in San Diego and Fresno counties, she said. Federal officials were expected to release information about winning schools from other states today.

Las Virgenes district officials said no trophies or ribbons will be awarded because of the program, although Lindero Canyon administrators could be in line for a September trip to Washington and, perhaps, lunch with President Reagan. Last year’s winners made such a trip, district officials said.

Parents attending Thursday’s standing-room-only culmination ceremony suggested that the school already has its prize--successful students.

“My daughter had a little problem with reading and they gave her the special attention that really helped her,” said Victor Whitehead, as his 15-year-old daughter Karin marched onto the field. “They gave her the steam to get her grades up.”

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Larry Bradfield said his 15-year-old son, Tracy, was forced to work hard by Lindero Canyon’s teachers during the boy’s three years at the school.


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