By Elena Epstein
The excitement was palpable as teachers, students, parents and administrators gathered to celebrate Lanai Road Elementary School’s coveted Blue Ribbon Award this week.
The school, located in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of Encino in the west San Fernando Valley, is among a handful of schools selected nationwide. Of the 24 California schools chosen for Blue Ribbon recognition this year, Lanai Road is the only one in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The Blue Ribbon award is considered the highest honor achievable by a school. Each year, the U.S. Department of Education honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students either achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap.
“This is a testament to the hard work of our teachers, students, staff, parents and volunteers,” said Lanai Principal, Erick Hansen, during the Nov. 17 award ceremony held on campus. “This school is special because of the partnership we have with our parents and our community. It’s everyone working together to support our children.”
Current six-grader and Lanai alum Hershey Liss spoke with humor and confidence at the ceremony, thanking his teachers through the years for ensuring he “didn’t have toilet paper stuck to his shoes in kindergarten” to teaching him about gems and stones, working independently and doing math in his head. “Lanai has been my home away from home,” Liss told the packed audience, which included LAUSD and Los Angeles City Council representatives. “Why can’t we stay at Lanai until college?”
Parent and community involvement has been a hallmark of Lanai. Miki Chase, who has been a parent volunteer for the past 13 years, spoke about the transformation that Lanai has gone through in the last decade. The school not only boosts high test scores, but has also reduced the achievement gap among its students. Thanks to the support of parents and the community, the school is able to raise enough funds to provide theater, arts, music, technology and many other programs.
“What we do for this school is an investment in the future,” said Nir Ohayon, parent of a first-grader and owner of Mercedes-Benz in Encino, which has been a major supporter of the school. “This is for the kids. There is nothing better.”