October 31, 2003
Four thousand rallying students gave Los Angeles-based billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad a hero's welcome this week as he presented the Long Beach Unified School District with $500,000 in scholarships and unveiled the 2003 Broad Prize for Urban Education. The prize and scholarships recognize the best urban school system in the nation, based on an exhaustive review by national education experts.
The district's 90 schools celebrated their triumph with community leaders during their annual Principal for a Day activities. Schools displayed large orange Broad Prize banners and new flags to launch a day of celebration.
A rousing outdoor rally at Wilson Classical High School--with cheerleaders, drum corps and jazz band--welcomed State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, school district officials, state and community elected leaders, and student body presidents from each local high school.
"Your district is leading the nation in overall student achievement while closing achievement gaps," said Eli Broad, Founder of the Broad Foundation and Broad Prize. He presented the 110 lb. bronze sculpture - which depicts two children holding up a schoolhouse - to Superintendent of Schools Christopher J. Steinhauser, Board of Education President Bobbie Smith, CSEA President Val Pharr and Teachers Association President Tony Diaz.
"No other Broad Prize finalist reduced ethnic and income-based achievement gaps in as many categories as Long Beach," Broad said. "I want to congratulate the true winners - the students of Long Beach."
Long Beach is the nation's most diverse large city, according to the U.S. Census. More than 99 percent of schools here met or exceeded state targets for academic growth; 100 percent showed improvement, the California Department of Education reported last week. Many Long Beach schools far exceeded state targets for improvement.
The Broad Prize celebration continued at an afternoon reception in downtown Long Beach, where Broad joined hundreds of business and community leaders who spent the morning as guest principals at the district's 90 schools.
"This is a huge honor," Steinhauser said at the Long Beach Hilton reception. "It's been a long journey over the past 12 years. It takes everybody working together.
"Mr. Broad, we're so thankful that you have faith in public education. We promise you this. Our work is not done. We are a good district, but we will get even better."
Each school also received a miniature of the Broad Prize. A full-sized duplicate of the bronze statue housed at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. will be engraved with the district's name.
"Today is a mayor's dream," Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill said. "What's happening here is something that every city would love to emulate. To work as hard as you do and then have someone say thank you in such a big way is unheard of. And then to bring the community in as principals for a day - what a strong day, what a strong statement."
At least 50 high school students will use the $500,000 for scholarships from the second annual prize. Already, 12 recent graduates are using $125,000 in scholarships award by Broad last year, when Long Beach was named a finalist for the inaugural prize. Among them is Wilson graduate Ashlye Perez, who addressed students at the Wilson rally.
"I was so excited when I heard that Long Beach schools won the Broad Prize," Perez said. "I attended Long Beach schools from the time I was a kindergartner. Long Beach is my home. Now everybody across the United States knows just how good we are. It's something to be proud of."