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Gwinnett schools top of their class
System named one of five finalists for national Broad Prize

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County Public Schools has been selected as one of five finalists for a prestigious national award for urban school systems, officials announced Thursday.

The Broad Prize for Urban Education honors school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement, especially for minority and low-income students. The winner will receive $1 million in scholarships for high school seniors who will graduate in 2010, while the four other districts will each receive $250,000 in scholarships.

"While all urban school systems across this country face enormous challenges, Gwinnett shows us what a successful public school district can accomplish," philanthropist Eli Broad, founder of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, said in a news release. "All involved, from Gwinnett's teachers to administrators to the district's leadership, can be proud that their hard work to raise student achievement has paid off for students and, indeed, the entire community."

The five finalists - Gwinnett County Public Schools, Aldine Independent School District in Houston, Broward County Public Schools in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Long Beach Unified School District in California and Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas - were selected from among the 100 largest urban school districts in the United States by a review board that evaluated publicly available academic performance data, according to a news release.

"We are so proud to have been selected as a finalist for this prestigious award and see it as validation of the good work that is going on in Gwinnett classrooms every day," GCPS Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. "When you look at the lengthy list of school districts that could have been considered for the Broad Prize, it is apparent that being a finalist is a significant accomplishment.

"It speaks volumes to the commitment and dedication to teaching and learning that is found throughout this district ... from the School Board level to the classroom. This truly is an achievement in which all GCPS employees played a part and of which we all can be proud."

Among the reasons Gwinnett was chosen as a 2009 Broad Prize finalist:

· The district outperformed other districts in Georgia that serve students with similar income levels in reading and math at all school levels (elementary, middle and high school), according to The Broad Prize methodology.

· Between 2005 and 2008, participation rates rose for black and Hispanic students taking the SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement exams, as did average ACT scores for Hispanic students.

· In recent years, Gwinnett has narrowed achievement gaps between both black and Hispanic students and white students in reading and math in elementary and middle school. For example, between 2006 and 2008, the gap between Gwinnett's Hispanic students and their white peers narrowed by 9 percentage points in elementary school reading.

Mary Kay Murphy, vice chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, said The Broad Prize is coveted by school districts, and to be named a finalist is a "spectacular achievement."

"We've been committed for over a decade to closing the achievement gap," she said. "The data this Foundation has assessed independently show we've done a superlative job ... but that doesn't mean we don't have more to do."

Gwinnett County Public Schools is the state's largest school district with about 158,000 students. Nearly 30 percent of students are black, and 22 percent are Hispanic. About 44 percent of the students participate in the free and reduced lunch program.

During the next two months, teams of educational researchers and practitioners will conduct site visits in each finalist district to determine the winner, which will be announced Sept. 16 in Washington, D.C.

The Broad Foundation has given out the award since 2002. Previous winners include the Brownsville Independent School District in Texas, New York City Department of Education, Boston Public Schools, Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia, the Garden Grove Unified School District and the Long Beach Unified School District, both in California, and the Houston Independent School District.

For more information about The Broad Prize, visit www.broadprize.org.