Ga. school district wins $1m top prize
Low-income students’ gains bring rewards
ATLANTA — Georgia’s largest school system has won the nation’s top prize in public education, which will provide $1 million in college scholarships for needy students in the district.
Gwinnett County Public Schools snagged the Broad Prize for Urban Education, an award the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation gives annually to urban districts that show the most gains in student performance and closing minority achievement gaps.
It is the second year in a row the 150,000-student district was nominated for the prize announced yesterday.
The district is 28 percent black and 25 percent Hispanic, with about half of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. But last year in reading and math, Gwinnett County schools outperformed all other Georgia districts serving students with similar family incomes.
“We have high expectations for students,’’ said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. “Our teachers believe that all students can and should learn. It is their job to make sure that takes place every day.’’
Eli Broad called Gwinnett County the most improved large district in America. “They’re the best,’’ Broad said, quickly adding that others are also doing well. “They’re setting an example for lots of other districts. Hopefully, others will follow their example.’’
Though Gwinnett County is in suburban Atlanta, the district meets the criteria for the Broad Prize because it has a high percentage of minority and low-income students.
The district has among the state’s smallest achievement gaps between black and white students at all grades in math, and the district narrowed that gap for middle school math by 8 percentage points between 2006 and 2009. In the same time period, the rate of black students taking the SAT college entrance exam rose 9 percentage points.
Ninety-nine percent of the district’s schools met federal benchmarks in 2009, compared with 86 percent of schools statewide, and the superintendent has been in office nearly 15 years, providing consistency at the helm of the large district.
“Gwinnett County has demonstrated that an unwavering focus across a school system — by every member of the district and the community — can lead to steady student improvement and achievement,’’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
The prize, created in 2002 by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in LA, is the US’s largest school districts education award.