Keller Dual Immersion Middle School is officially “distinguido.” That’s Spanish for “distinguished.” The school, which began immersing students in English and Spanish instruction in 2015, has now earned the Distinguished School Award from the California Department of Education.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond named Keller among 162 middle and high schools to win the award this year.
“I would like to commend these schools for fighting for a better future for our students, closing achievement gaps, and improving academic performance,” Thurmond said. “Thanks to teachers, administrators, classified employees and parents working together, these schools meet the needs of all of their students, provide high-quality educational experiences, and put kids on a pathway to great careers.”
Eighth graders at Keller have passed the Advanced Placement Spanish exam at a rate of more than 90 percent for the past four years, an extraordinary feat considering that the students are taking and passing a college-level exam, for college credit, while still in middle school. The school’s attendance rate is about 98 percent.
The success of the Keller lobos (wolves) is the result of a team effort, Keller Principal Thomas Espinoza said.
“I want to congratulate and thank our entire Keller community for this well-deserved recognition,” Espinoza said. “Keller is an amazing place of learning and growth for everyone. I thank our parents for their continued support and partnership with their children's education. I thank our talented and dedicated staff for going above and beyond to make every child feel part of something special. I especially thank our students for giving their best effort each and every day.”
Espinoza also commended the wisdom of an employee – a painter who recently was among the workers providing ongoing upgrades to the campus. Keller had previously won the Distinguished School Award back when the campus was an elementary school, and a large Distinguished School logo was still emblazoned on the wall at the school entrance. Espinoza asked whether the logo would be painted over “because it’s no longer our award,” and the painter recommended leaving it in place “because you never know.” The logo remained.
“So now we’re all set,” Espinoza said.
Schools that applied for the award were eligible based on their performance and progress on the state indicators as described on the California School Dashboard. While this year’s awards recognized middle and high schools, last year’s awards recognized elementary and K-8 schools, including eight schools in the Long Beach Unified School District.
Distinguished School award winners represent examples of excellent teaching, learning and collaboration, along with highly successful school climate efforts such as conflict resolution and positive behavior intervention, according to the CDE.
Last fall, Keller won a 2018 America’s Best Urban Schools Award from the National Center for Urban School Transformation. Only 15 schools nationally won that award, which honored schools based upon multiple indicators of excellence for each demographic group served.
The LBUSD Board of Education in 2015 approved the re-use of the former Keller Elementary School site to offer dual immersion instruction in English and Spanish for grades 6 to 8.
The middle grades program moved from nearby Patrick Henry K-8 School, which returned to its original K-5 configuration. The reconfiguration allowed the school district to expand the sought-after dual immersion program in Henry’s elementary grades by devoting a separate, entire site to the middle grades immersion program.
Dual immersion programs remain in high demand among parents. By next year the program at Keller will have doubled in size since its inception and will serve about 420 students.