Educators at Joaquin Miller Elementary School on Friday will dedicate their quad to the late Gail Copeland, a longtime Burbank educator who served as principal of the school for 19 years.
A 1957 graduate of Burbank High, Copeland spent over 42 years as an educator with Burbank Unified, beginning as a fourth-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary in 1961.
She worked at Bret Harte and Washington elementary schools before she began teaching at Miller in 1975 and served as the school’s principal from 1984 through 2003. After battling cancer, Copeland passed away in January of this year.
Current Miller Principal Judy Hession, who worked under Copeland as an assistant principal for six years, said she was a mentor to teachers and staff who would offer them her undivided attention, regardless of her demanding schedule.
Hession said Copeland was also a modest leader, who never wanted to take any credit for the school’s success.
“She never liked the limelight,” Hession said, adding that Copeland wouldn’t be pleased if she knew the school was honoring her and renaming its quad “Copeland Courtyard.”
“She would be not happy with me,” Hession added.
Two years after taking the principal’s position, Hession said she regularly called Copeland for her input.
Among Copeland’s best pieces of advice, she recalls, was when she told Hession that the greatest marker of a quality principal is when the school’s staff and teachers are empowered to run the school without their principal there.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than her,” Hession said. “She gave us the gift of being able to do [our] job, and trusted us to do our job and do it well.”
More than half of all of Miller’s teachers who currently work at the school were hired by Copeland, Hession said.
Among those expected to attend Friday’s dedication will be Copeland’s family, Burbank school officials and Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy.
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