Burbank Unified elementary trio earn California Distinguished Schools recognition

Artwork of the California Distinguished School logo from previous recognition at Walt Disney Elementary School in Burbank. Late last month, the school was one of three Burbank Unified elementary campuses to earn California Distinguished School honors.
(Tim Berger/Burbank Leader)

Walt Disney, William McKinley and Joaquin Miller elementary schools stand alone, certainly within the Burbank Unified School District, as the trio received recognition recently from the state department of education and state Supt. Tony Thurmond as California Distinguished Schools.

The award, announced late last month, is one of the highest offered by the state and places the Burbank schools in rarefied air. Disney, McKinley and Miller were selected among the district’s 11 elementary schools and are three of 323 winners chosen statewide.

“Thanks go to all the staff at these schools — teachers, administrators, classified employees — and parents, who are working together to provide high-quality educational experiences for all of their students,” said Thurmond, in an official statement.

The 2020 California Distinguished Schools program honors schools “for closing the achievement gap and for achieving exceptional student performance,” according to the state education department.


Test scores, suspension rates and school climate were some of the metrics used in determining how exactly schools closed the achievement gap and achieved exceptional student performance.

The honors are presented on a biannual basis and alternate annually with middle and high school awards.

“We are very excited to celebrate the hard work of the students, teachers, families and staff at these three schools,” Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill texted while on vacation.

Disney Elementary has improved in several areas over the last handful of years, perhaps led by its California Assessment of Student Performance Progress test scores.


The compact 2.7-acre school with 22 classrooms that serves about 441 students lifted up its math and English scores above 50%.

Last year’s test scores saw Disney students meet or surpass English testing standards at a rate of 63.23% and math standards at 56.45%. Five years earlier, English students met or exceeded state standards by 50%, while only 36% did so in math.

Outside of testing, Disney saw school climate improvements as well.

The school’s rate of chronic absenteeism, when a student misses 10% or more of classes annually, dropped from 6.2% to 5.1% last year. The school’s suspension rate plummeted from 2.1% two years ago to .4% in the latest measurement.

Like Disney, McKinley saw strong improvements in school climate.

The school’s chronic absenteeism rate dropped for a third straight year to 5.4%, which marked a .9 percentage-point decrease from the previous year.

McKinley also sported an impressive 0% suspension rate for the previous school year. The suspension rate fell from .8% two years earlier.

In state testing, McKinley students saw a 10-percentage point increase in English and a nearly 15-percentage point increase in math this past school year in comparison to the 2014-15 school year.


As for Miller students, they beat out their Burbank Unified peers in school testing.

On average, district students met or exceeded English testing standards 64.71% and math standards 51.19%. At Miller, students this past year topped both percentages at 68.71% in English and 57.58% in math.

In terms of school climate, Miller students also dropped their rate of chronic absenteeism from 10.4% two years earlier to 8.7% for the most recent school year.

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