TUJUNGA – Schools strung banners, reworded marquees and dished out ice cream Tuesday in the San Fernando Valley, where a record 18 elementary campuses were named California Distinguished Schools by the state Department of Education. Los Angeles Unified officials called the distinction a mark of progress at a time when public education has come under attack by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others who want to overhaul the massive school district. “I think one of the most important things is this proves we are following our main mission which is in educating our kids,” said LAUSD School Board member Jon Lauritzen, whose San Fernando Valley district secured more than a dozen of the awards. “This is another steppingstone we need to look at and it does show we’re headed in the right direction.” The honors come despite concerns from Villaraigosa and other critics who say schools continue to report low test scores and a high dropout rate, which experts say varies from 22 percent to nearly 50 percent. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventBut LAUSD School Board President Marlene Canter said the awards demonstrate steady incremental progress, which shows the district is not the basket case it’s being made out to be. This year, a total of 32 LAUSD elementary schools received the honor. The state alternates awards among elementary and middle and high schools. In 2004, a total of 11 LAUSD elementary schools earned the award. “This is what’s happening in Los Angeles everyday,” Canter said. “It’s an unfortunate story when this is not the every day conversation. This (progress) is about continuing to move in the right direction as well as work that needs to be done.” Valley schools pointed to strong community support, steady instruction, and enthusiastic teachers, parents and children as reasons for winning the titles. Almost 1,000 schools applied this year. “These schools are the best of the best,” Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “They share a vision of excellence and they have brought that vision to life. These deserving school leaders and teachers, staffs, and students have worked extremely hard to achieve academic success and this recognition.” Schools were required to submit lengthy essays, show high academic standards and strong leadership during a series of campus visits. Winners will be invited to celebrate at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. “Our staff really deserved the recognition,” said Alan O’Hara, principal at Nestle Avenue Elementary school in Tarzana. “They worked really hard to get where the kids need to be. We have a very collegial, very tight group of staff here. We’re like a little community.” State officials honored 377 schools this year, the largest number of elementary schools ever selected. Elsewhere, winners included 10 from Ventura County, four from Glendale and two from Burbank. “We’re incredibly proud and pleased to have four schools recognized, three of which had not been recognized previously,” said Michael Escalante, superintendent for Glendale Unified. “We now have 21 out of our 30 schools that have been recognized at least one time or another.” All of Burbank Unified elementary schools have been named California Distinguished schools at least once, said Joel Shapiro, assistant superintendent for instructional services.” But in the Valley, where many of the schools applied for the first time, earning high marks will help fund future programs, and attract more parents to the schools, educators said. “We’ve been waiting for this, we’re so happy,” said Bridget Arce, site coordinator for Lokrantz School in Reseda. The school emphasizes integration among students who have special needs and those who don’t, she said. At Granada Elementary school, Principal Esta Herman announced the award during a morning assembly. Letters were sent to parents, banners were raised, and in June, the community will be invited to a special ceremony. “We’re a little school people sometimes forget about, but we worked really hard,” Herman said. [email protected] (818) 713-3664 ROLL OF HONOR A record 377 elementary schools statewide were named Tuesday as California Distinguished Schools. Here is a list of the local winners: Burbank Unified: Stevenson Jefferson Glendale Unified: Franklin Jefferson Fremont Marshall Los Angeles Unified: Calabash Cantara Castlebay Colfax El Oro Granada Monlux Knollwood Lockhurst Lokrantz Lorne Montague Mountain View Nestle Pomello Reseda Van Alden Vintage Magnet Moorpark Unified: Arroyo West Campus Canyon Oak Park Unified: Brookside Red Oak Simi Valley Unified: Lincoln Wood Ranch160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!