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GCPS second to none

"Never larger, never more diverse, never higher scores" kept running through my mind as I thought about the challenges that Gwinnett County Public Schools has met over more than a decade to become one of the top five urban school systems in the nation.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Visitors' Center at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Philanthropist Eli Broad took the stage and spoke of the reasons his wife, Edythe Broad, and he established the $2 million Broad Prize in Urban Public Education.

Since 2002, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has funded The Broad Prize to focus on urban school districts that dramatically improve urban K-12 public education through better governance, management, labor relations, and competition.

Along with other school board members and representatives of GCPS, I sat in row 4 in front of a stage that included the five finalist district superintendents, including our own Superintendent/CEO J. Alvin Wilbanks, Philanthropist Eli Broad and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

We arrived at the ceremonies full of pride that our school district of 160,000 students had been named as a finalist for the 2009 Broad Prize. The winning district received $1 million in college scholarships for the Class of 2010, while the four finalist districts got $250,000 each in college scholarships.

Sitting with our Gwinnett delegation were school board members and representatives from the other four finalist districts. They included Aldine Independent School District, Houston; Broward County Public Schools, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Long Beach Unified School District, Calif.; and Socorro Independent School District, El Paso, Texas.

We listened as Dan Katzir, managing director of The Broad Foundation, provided details about the finalist districts - number of students enrolled, percent of black, Hispanic and white students; percent of enrolled students in each district meeting poverty levels; and measures of district success in increasing student learning.

Three different review committees and selection panels collected and analyzed data on the finalist districts and posted them on the Broad Prize Web site. Also, Broad representatives observed teaching and learning in the finalist districts. In Gwinnett County, they met at Louise Radloff Middle School and at Berkmar High School. Among others in the community, they also met with our School Board.

Web watch parties at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and in Gwinnett County public schools provided simultaneous viewing of the ceremonies to teachers, staff, parents, students and community members.

At 11:34 a.m., Secretary Duncan announced four-time Broad Prize finalist Aldine Independent School District as the 2009 Broad Prize winner. With more than 60,000 students, 30 percent of whom are black and 80 percent of whom are eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches, the district is led by 28-year veteran superintendent Wanda Bambert.

We congratulate Aldine and the other finalist districts on their achievements in advancing public urban education for all students they serve.

On our return flight to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, we reflected on the blessing of achieving $250,000 in college scholarships and of being one of five finalists for the 2009 Broad Prize.

We reviewed the importance of keeping our focus on our belief that all children can and will learn; that there is no substitute for teaching and learning, with an emphasis on learning; and that we are blessed to have a superintendent and community that support public education and believe, as we do, that Gwinnett public schools are indeed nulli secondus - second to none.

Mary Kay Murphy is vice chairman of the Gwinnett Board of Education and the District III representative.