LEMAY LAURELS MOSTLY LATINO VALLEY SCHOOL EARNS U.S. EDUCATION HONOR.
VAN NUYS -- During Connie Gibson's 15 years as principal, Lemay Street Elementary has been named a California Distinguished School and a Title 1 Academic Achievement campus.
On Friday, Lemay added a prestigious National Blue Ribbon Award -- one of two schools in Los Angeles Unified and 35 in California so designated -- in recognition of its outstanding academic progress.
``We all can do more than we think we can do,'' said Gibson, who is legally blind as a result of complications of diabetes.
``A lot of it is consistency in the classroom and making parents consistent. We're building responsibility that goes across all levels -- teachers, parents, students and clerical staff. We have very high expectations, which we know results in a very good education for students.''
In the past five years, the predominantly Latino school gained more than 206 points on the Academic Performance Index, scoring an impressive 840 this year, well above the statewide goal of 800.
Superintendent Roy Romer said the honor bestowed on Lemay and Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School proves that all schools have the ability to excel, no matter what their demographics.
``This recent announcement reinforces that our schools are succeeding,'' he said. ``This is yet another major victory demonstrating that our focus on improving instruction not only raises test scores but the overall educational programs of our schools.''
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose legislation to gain significant authority over Los Angeles Unified was recently signed by the governor, issued a statement commending the local winners and encouraging similar achievement gains for other schools.
``There are some islands of excellence within our public schools that need to be celebrated, but too many of our kids are trapped in failing schools,'' the statement said. ``Every child deserves a world-class education.''
The two LAUSD schools were among 31 public schools and four private schools in the state identified by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings as 2006 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools.
Other local Blue Ribbon schools include Clark Magnet High in Glendale, Redwood Middle School in Thousand Oaks; and Calabasas and Newbury Park high schools.
Gibson credited the success of her school to its relatively small size -- 408 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade.
That allows teachers to closely monitor the students' progress, providing additional help to those learning at a slower pace.
``I want teachers to have a missionary spirit -- you have to empower kids to learn and you are empowered to teach, and if everyone comes to the job feeling that way, everyone's going to be effective,'' Gibson said.
School board member Jon Lauritzen said the school shows what teachers, parents and students can do if they work together to raise student achievement.
``First of all, you need a really dynamic leader and then you need someone who over a period of time has the freedom to build a staff around them so they can put forward their programs and inspire youngsters,'' Lauritzen said. ``It's really a tremendous achievement for them, particularly with an 85 percent Latino population, which makes it a greater achievement for that school.''
The 23-year-old Blue Ribbon program encourages states to nominate public schools that are either academically superior or demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement.
The winners will be honored Nov. 9 and 10 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
``I nominated these schools last year for this national distinction because their students made significant gains in academic achievement,'' State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said.
``Everyone involved in these students' lives deserves credit for helping them make these gains that we hope will ultimately help students develop the mastery of skills necessary to be successful adults.''
Lemay first-grade teacher Carrie Hughes believes the key is high expectations, and said one of the treats of being a teacher is seeing a child meet those expectations.
``Even though we know someone's struggling in an area and it's hard for them to meet the expectations, we give them more to be able to meet the expectations,'' said Hughes, who's taught at Lemay for nine years.
``There are students struggling on certain things, but once you identify and work with them, you see their eyes light up and they say, `Oh, I get it now.' You see a change in their demeanor that they get it and they feel more confident.''
(1 -- color) Lemay Street Elementary School second-grader Emily Rodriguez, 7, reads in class Friday. The Van Nuys school is one of 35 in California and two in the LAUSD to receive the prestigious National Blue Ribbon Award.
(2) Lemay Street Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Alia Congdon prepares her class to head to the library. The Van Nuys school was among 35 in the state to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award, recognizing the academic gains of the mostly Latino school. ``We all can do more than we think we can do,'' said Lemay Principal Connie Gibson.
David Sprague/Staff Photographer