February 22, 2002
(The following remarks were made by Superintendent Carl Cohn who received the Harold W. McGraw, Jr., Prize in Education at the New York Public Library recently. The prestigious award recognizes "outstanding individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving education in this country and whose accomplishments are making a difference today." The honorees are judged by a distinguished panel of educators and education policy makers. This year the Board of Judges chose the theme "Closing the Gap" and recognized Dr. Cohn for raising achievement among underserved students and cited him as a role model for all Americans.)
"I want to thank McGraw-Hill for this extraordinary recognition of our team effort in Long Beach, California to improve education for the children that we are privileged to serve.
"I'll never forget my first visit to this remarkable city in the summer of 1968 following the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I was struck by the profound and direct message of the New York Urban Coalition's billboard campaign, which simply said, 'Give a Damn!'
"I realized right here in this city for the first time that creating a bright future for poor children was my calling--one that, at the time, was more important than staying in the seminary and becoming a priest. That fall, I began teaching at Dominguez High School in Compton and the rest, as they say, is history.
"No urban superintendent receives this type of recognition today without a great deal of help from loved ones, dedicated Board of Education members, an expert management team, hard working teachers and support staff, parents who care and a community that prods the schools to become better than they are.
"When it comes to loved ones, I'm especially blessed by my wife, Kathy, my son, Tyler, and my daughter, Meryl, who have all had to sacrifice a significant amount of "family time" during the past 10 years and more, while the interests of the 97,000 school children of Long Beach Unified were being advanced non stop in countless places and venues far from home.
"I'm especially grateful to my children, who attend Long Beach schools, for the critical commentary they've offered on my job performance at the dinner table over the years. I'm not sure we'll get the high schools completely fixed before they've graduated, but they have eloquently pressed the case.
"I also want to thank my sister education institutions in Long Beach, Long Beach City College and California State University, Long Beach, which along with us form the Long Beach Education Partnership--an extraordinary support vehicle which has made seamless education a reality for thousands of teachers and students in our community. We're delighted that Teachers College Press will be publishing our story next year.
"I want each of you to know how much this award truly means because it puts me in the company of urban superintendents that I have admired for so long. Their work represents the real hope and promise on the urban scene in the past two decades. Putting our efforts in Long Beach alongside theirs is indeed a high honor, one for which I will be eternally grateful."