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2 State Teachers Receive Honors

January 29, 2002|RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Two California educators known for promoting opportunities for minorities are among the winners of the 2001 Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in education, one of the most prestigious honors in the field.

One of the winners is Carl W. Cohn, 56, chief of the 96,000-student Long Beach Unified School District, who is the longest-serving head of an urban district in the nation.

After 10 years at that post, he plans to leave this summer for a teaching position at USC.

The other California winner is Mary Catherine Swanson, 57, founder of the AVID program, based in San Diego.

AVID stands for Advancing Via Individual Determination, and its focus is on helping underachieving low-income and minority students get ready for college.

The prizes, which carry a $25,000 award, are to be announced in New York today.

Under Cohn, the Long Beach district has often been ahead of national reform trends.

Among its firsts: requiring students to wear uniforms, sending third-graders with reading difficulties to summer school and diverting struggling eighth-graders to an academic prep school for a year before high school.

But Cohn said Monday that he was proudest of forging a solid working relationship with the district's governing board.

"We've stayed together as a team, and that's allowed us to spend a lot of time on academic improvement," Cohn said.

Test scores have gone up significantly in the last three years in the district, where the student population is 45% Latino, 20% black, 18% white and 12% Asian.

Swanson was honored for founding AVID in 1980 and the program's subsequent growth. It now serves 65,000 students in 21 states and 15 foreign countries.

The program uses mentors to teach students the value of hard work to develop good study habits and strong test-taking skills.

The third winner of the 2001 McGraw prize is Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the Baltimore County campus of the University of Maryland.

Hrabowski founded a program to increase opportunities for aspiring African American scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

The McGraw prize is named for the chairman emeritus of the McGraw-Hill publishing companies.

Former winners of the 13-year-old annual prize include Secretary of Education Rod Paige, former first lady Barbara Bush, North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. and Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer.

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