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State of Education: Low Funds, High Honors

Superintendent Chris Steinhauser joined the leaders of Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College at a recent first-ever "State of Education Luncheon" spotlighting Seamless Education and efforts to make the most of lean school budgets. Steinhauser said local K-12 schools have added to their list of major achievements since winning the 2003 national Broad Prize for Urban Education last fall. Despite more than $42 million in cuts caused by California’s budget crunch, schools in the Long Beach Unified School District continue to earn top state and national honors: • A record 29 of the district’s elementary schools, or roughly half, are in the running for the 2004 California Distinguished School Award -- the most candidates for this award in the district’s history. • Fourteen schools recently were named Title I Achieving Schools, double the number that earned this honor last year. • Ninety-nine percent of the district’s schools have met and often far exceed the state’s most recent academic performance index growth targets. Many schools have tripled or quadrupled the state’s goals. Some schools improved by more than 10 times their targeted growth. • More Long Beach teachers recently earned their profession’s highest honor – National Board Certification – bringing the total number of nationally certified teachers in the district to 59 over the past three years. The school district is taking steps to begin to reduce class size in grades four and five, Steinhauser said. It is also reducing busing by building new schools closer to where students live. About 300 education, business and community leaders attended the luncheon, presented by the Long Beach Education Foundation and sponsored by Boeing. "These achievements do not occur by accident," Steinhauser said. "They happen because of visionary leadership by our Board of Education." The audience gave a standing ovation to retiring Board of Education President Bobbie Smith when Steinhauser thanked her for her 16 years of service. Steinhauser was joined by Cal State Long Beach President Bob Maxson and Long Beach City College Superintendent-President Jan Kehoe. Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, moderated the discussion. She praised Long Beach’s nationally recognized Seamless Education effort. Seamless Education is a smoothly linked system that coordinates curriculum and teacher training, helping students advance from kindergarten through graduate school. "I hope you realize how fortunate we are. You just have to know how important these three people are," O’Neill said, referring to Steinhauser, Maxson and Kehoe as "leaders of the leaders" who have brought Long Beach to the forefront in every phase of education. "They are important not just to their institutions but to their profession throughout the U.S." O’Neill said. "They are united. They are committed. They are good human beings. I want you to know how unique it is that they work together. It’s awesome what they’ve accomplished. It’s good for our cities, and it’s best for our students." With all three institutions facing deep cuts, and Cal State Long Beach being forced to turn away thousands of qualified students, Steinhauser said the crucial challenge will be to prepare students for college and then assure their access to higher education. Maxson agreed. "You can’t change your mission based on the frailties of the economy," the Cal State Long Beach president said. "We can’t get short of breath. We can’t get off task. The Governor’s proposed budget is a best-case scenario. After his May revise, in our judgment, it will not get any better. We must maintain the quality of education." Kehoe described current challenges as "the perfect storm" with more students and less funding. Community colleges have been asked to take 10 percent of the students from CSU and UC who need remedial courses. Students from the three education institutions described what it means to attend school in Long Beach. Millikan High School’s student body president, David Dirks, gave his school high marks for academics. "I truly couldn’t have picked a finer school," Dirks said. "We recently surpassed our Academic Performance Index target, like many of our other high schools. The teachers and administrators really care about the students in Long Beach."