Joaquin Miller Elementary School Wednesday was named a California Distinguished School for 2008, after a rigorous, months-long application and assessment process.

School officials learned in October that Miller was on a list of schools eligible to apply for the designation — having met Academic Performance Index and Adequately Yearly Progress accountability standards — and submitted an application that received a perfect score, Deputy Supt. Joel Shapiro said.

Miller is one of 343 elementary schools in 39 counties in the state to receive the award, according to the office of Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction.

Miller is the only elementary school in Burbank Unified School District to receive the honor this year, but all of the district’s elementary, middle and high schools have been named as Distinguished Schools in the past, Shapiro said.

Distinguished school status expires after five years, and schools must reapply, he added.

The report highlighted Miller’s strong connection with the community, support for students and high level of instruction, Shapiro said.

The Distinguished School Program sent a team to Miller to validate the information contained in the application, visiting classrooms, going through school documents and interviewing administrators, teachers, students and parents, he said.

“Their academic achievement has consistently grown,” he said. “And that academic progress is just an indication of the kind of instruction that goes on there. I can tell you some of the best teachers in the district are at Miller.”

During the visit, the validation team went to almost every classroom, looking for school components indicated in the school’s application, such as differentiating instruction styles, working with students in small groups and using organizers to help students sort their ideas while writing, Principal Judy Hession said. “I’m just proud of the staff and the hard work that they put into every day working with our students,” she said.

“I guess I’m biased, but I feel very fortunate to be the principal of this school.”

Miller students have been equally engaged in the process all along, having visitors on campus and seeing their teachers working on application paperwork, said Jennifer Almer, a 10-year Miller veteran who is now teaching second and third grade.

“They’ve definitely been a part of the process, so they’re definitely going to be excited,” she said.

“Any time a school is recognized, the students at that school really have a stake in it.”

The award validates the results of an internal study conducted at Miller, Supt. Greg Bowman said.

“I am just so pleased about the recognition of Miller School as a Distinguished School,” he said. “It’s something that is deserved by everyone on the staff — the teachers, the principal, all of the support staff — and especially the young people of the schools who are the beneficiaries of all the work that happens there to improve learning.”

 CHRIS WIEBE covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at

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