Long Beach Named America's Best Urban School System

The Long Beach Unified School District was named the top urban school district in the nation today at New York’s Rockefeller Center. The school district will receive $500,000 in scholarships for winning the Broad Prize for Urban Education, an award that educators have equated to the Nobel Prize. The event, attended by members of Congress and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, honored Long Beach schools for narrowing the achievement gap between traditionally high achievers and students who have not fared as well. Long Beach, the most ethnically diverse city in the nation according to the U.S. Census, was one of five finalists picked for raising achievement for students from all walks of life, and for breaking through language and income barriers to give all children their best chance at success. "Every staff member in our schools gives 100 percent every day, and they do it for our students. That’s what’s so unique about this place," said Christopher J. Steinhauser, superintendent of schools for the Long Beach Unified School District. "We do want to be champions of what’s right for kids. We’re thrilled about this prize because it recognizes that we’re an excellent school district that’s getting even better." A review board of 20 prominent education leaders from throughout the nation analyzed extensive data to determine the finalists. The Long Beach Unified School District provided more than 20,000 pieces of information on student achievement alone. "The Long Beach Unified School District is a great model of educational innovation, resourcefulness and dedication," said Eli Broad, Founder of The Broad Foundation and The Broad Prize. "It is critical that we recognize their success and share their strategies with educators and the public across the country." A team of researchers visited each district being honored. In Long Beach, the team visited Tucker Elementary School, Hill Classical Middle School and Wilson Classical High School, which along with nearby Poly High School was recently ranked by Newsweek as one of the top high schools in the nation. "You are pillars of hope for other school districts," independent evaluator Jean Rutherford said during her recent visit to Long Beach schools. "You prove it can be done." The Long Beach Unified School District, with 97,000 students, is the third largest school district in California. The fact that the prize went to a California school district is especially noteworthy considering the state’s record budget deficit and reduced school funding over the past two years. As a result of state budget cuts, the Long Beach district has eliminated $40 million from its budget by freezing the hiring of non-teaching positions and implementing other cost-cutting measures. By using reserves and controlling costs, the district has protected classroom instruction, maintained class size reduction and averted the demoralizing layoffs felt by many other California school districts. The other 2003 finalists were Boston Public Schools, Garden Grove Unified School District, Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, and Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia. Each of the finalists will receive $125,000 in Broad scholarships.