'A Winner the Wizard of Westwood Would Love'

By Bobbie Smith Board of Education President Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden at age 93 still has a lot to teach us. We are honored that Coach Wooden will be the keynote speaker at our annual Most Inspiring Student Dinner on April 22. The 96 students he will recognize -- one from each school in the Long Beach Unified School District -- are 96 inspiring reasons we're beating the odds. School principals nominated students who embody at least one of Mr. Wooden's character-building blocks in his Pyramid of Success -- cornerstones like hard work, cooperation and enthusiasm. John Wooden's approach gets superb results. His UCLA teams set all-time records with four perfect 30-0 seasons and 10 national championships. Our students and schools aspire to similar greatness. As America's best urban schools, we recently won our first national championship, the $500,000 Broad Prize for Urban Education. We've been fortunate to achieve this and many other recent major honors. We think the Coach would be proud of our schools' wonderful record: * Highest-rated Head Start program in U.S. * Largest number of California Distinguished School nominees -- 11 schools * Newsweek's Best High Schools -- two schools * National Blue Ribbon Schools -- five schools * National Title I Achieving Schools -- 14 schools * Grammy Award for music education -- one of top seven high schools in U.S. * 59 Teachers earn national board certification * Nation's best geology teacher * Teacher wins Milken National Educator Award * New schools built on time, on budget * Busing reduced as new schools open * Balanced budget, no layoffs, no class-size increases despite state budget cuts * Successful Board of Education initiatives in reading, writing, math * Best attendance, lowest suspension rate in decades * Ten years of school uniforms in schools now serving 74,000 students * Local high school leads state in UC admissions * State Golden Bell Award for community-based English tutoring * 99 percent of our schools meet or exceed state academic growth targets These extraordinary accomplishments all happened despite an unprecedented state budget crisis and all the daily challenges that every urban school system in America faces. Other school districts have not been as fortunate. Many of them would be happy to have just one of these honors. How did Long Beach do all this? How did we beat the odds here in America's most diverse city? John Wooden said it this way: ``Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.' That's what our students, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and community partners do every day in Long Beach schools. We don't have the most resources, compared to schools in other states that spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars more per student. We have no special advantage, no special secret. Like Mr. Wooden, we are fortunate to have an unbeatable team of talented players. We work hard. We have the will to win. Our 96 most inspiring students represent the essence of our success. When Mr. Wooden visits us, he'll feel at home among some real champions -- our students and the caring people who support them. He still says, ``If I am through learning, I am through.' On April 22, you'll see that he's not through. He's still a great teacher. I know we'll all learn from him and be honored by the presence of this national treasure and his words of wisdom. Bobbie Smith is president of the Board of Education. She will retire in July after 16 years on the board. The April 22 Most Inspiring Student dinner starts at 6 p.m. at the Long Beach Hilton Hotel. Tickets are $100, with proceeds going to the Long Beach Education Foundation's programs for youth. Call (562) 997-8111 for more information.