September 16, 2007
From the Long Beach
By Christopher J. Steinhauser
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will present America's largest educational prize for school districts on Tuesday at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Only five school districts are in the running. Long Beach is one of them, again.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will address the audience. Gen. Colin Powell will deliver the keynote address. Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad will explain how Long Beach and four other school systems qualified as finalists for a total of $1 million in scholarships included with Mr. Broad's namesake Broad Prize for Urban Education.
Once again, Long Beach schools take the national stage in unprecedented fashion. Long Beach is the first former winner of the prize to return as a finalist. How does our school system continue to defy the odds and serve as a national beacon?
The technical answer involves mounds of data. Tens of thousands of pieces of information on student performance collected by an independent team of national experts show that we're outperforming America's large school systems. The Broad Prize honors large school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among various ethnic and socioeconomic groups of students.
Long Beach qualifies as a finalist for the prize because its schools outperformed other California schools serving students with similar income levels in reading and math at all grade levels: elementary, middle and high school. Long Beach's low-income, African-American and Hispanic students outperformed their peers in similar districts in reading and math at all levels.
Policy makers everywhere are interested in our student achievement gains. They know that more school districts must make these significant gains if the United States is to maintain an educated citizenry that provides social stability and drives economic growth.
The more personal, human explanation for our success, however, does not involve numbers. It's about the sheer will of our employees and of this community to see all of our children succeed.
It's about the teachers who spend many hours in professional development training provided in conjunction with Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College and others.
It's about the principals and other administrators who provide teachers the time and encouragement they need to collaborate and improve continually.
It's about the parents who simply want a brighter future for their children and do everything possible to make that happen.
It's equally about the school secretary who juggles endless tasks with dignity and grace, and the school custodian who, from the time he raises the American flag in the morning, to the time he lowers it in the evening, sets an example with his warm and welcoming demeanor.
It's about our thousands of employees who work quietly behind the scenes to make certain that our students are transported, nourished, nurtured, counseled, coached and comforted daily.
It's about our local service and philanthropic organizations, our 1,000 business partners and our 9,000 Volunteers in Public Schools, who donate their time, money and expertise to help make learning possible.
It's about our local religious leaders, who have joined forces to provide extra tutoring and test preparation for some of our most at-risk youth.
It's about our partnerships with City Hall, our after-school programs, our nationally recognized Parks and Recreation programs, our unsurpassed police and Sheriff's departments, and our Family Literacy Centers and annual City Library Card Campaign provided in conjunction with the City of Long Beach.
It's about our elected Board of Education, which for years has consistently made its decisions by answering one litmus-test question: What is best for our children?
It's about all of these things and more.
No matter what happens on Tuesday at the Library of Congress, it will be a time to celebrate and appreciate all of these efforts. And the next morning at our schools, we will quietly resume our important work, raising the flag again with the pride of knowing that we are among America's best urban schools.
Christopher J. Steinhauser is superintendent of schools for the Long Beach Unified School District.