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Award Goes to Garden Grove District

The $125,000 is for placing as a finalist in an academic improvement competition. Long Beach Unified takes the top prize of $500,000.

September 23, 2003|Erika Hayasaki and Claire Luna | Times Staff Writers

The Garden Grove Unified School District received $125,000 Monday as a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, a national award created last year by Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad to recognize urban school systems that have closed achievement gaps.

The prize was created to honor districts that are improving test scores and providing quality education to students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and income levels, Broad said.

Its purpose also is to create competition among school districts and to share the best educational practices with each other, he said. "We want districts to say we want to win the Broad prize," he said

The top prize, and $500,000, went to the Long Beach Unified School District.

"We hope that Long Beach will be an inspiration to all of the Southern California urban districts," Broad said, adding that the district had been chosen from more than 100 reviewed.

In Long Beach, the money from Broad's foundation will go toward college scholarships for at least 50 district students.

The award to Garden Grove Unified will fund college scholarships for more than a dozen students. Officials in the 51,000-student district said they had raised overall district achievement by focusing on individual children's improvement.

Increasing instructional time in core academic subjects has been a staple of the 70-campus district's improvement program.

For example, fourth- through sixth-graders spend 78% more time learning math than they did five years ago, and kindergartners' language arts instruction has been increased 50%.

That strategy, along with swift, targeted intervention for struggling students, helped the district improve its scores enough to become a Broad Prize finalist two years in a row, said school board President Bob Harden.

"This award is validation that what we're doing is making a difference," said Harden, who traveled to New York City with district Supt. Laura Schwalm to receive the award. "We're a finalist because we have results."

More than half of Garden Grove students are English learners, and about 60% come from low-income families. The district includes schools in Garden Grove and portions of Westminster, Stanton, Midway City and Santa Ana.

District officials, teachers and parents don't let demographics serve as excuses for poor performance, Harden said.

"We're unwilling to accept lower standards or lower expectations for students from different socioeconomic levels," he said. "As a district, starting from the top, we believe we're there to serve every student."

The awards to Long Beach and Garden Grove were presented during a ceremony in New York also attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

Long Beach schools Supt. Christopher Steinhauser said: "This is just a huge, huge honor. What this says is that all of the hard work that staff, teachers and parents put forth over the last decade is paying off."

A review board of 20 education leaders from across the country analyzed data on test scores, dropout rates, Advanced Placement classes and demographics to determine the finalists and the winner

The 96,488-student Long Beach Unified district stood out, they said, because of steady progress in its standardized test scores and in the learning environment.

Several years ago, Long Beach schools began holding back students who were not performing well in the first, third, fifth and eighth grades, and instituted extra tutoring programs for those students.

The district, in which 36% of students are English-language learners and 69% are poor, requires youngsters to wear uniforms.

It frequently reviews its data and performance at school and administrative levels under a system called the Baldridge National Quality Program, which was funded by grants from Broad's foundation.

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