WASHINGTON – A Houston-area school district won a million dollars for college scholarships Wednesday,in what sponsors called the largest national education award.
Eli Broad and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan presented the 2009 Broad Prize for Urban Education to Aldine Independent School District Superintendent Wanda Bamberg at a ceremony at the Capitol Visitor Center.
The four other finalists joined Bamberg on stage,in front of colleagues,members of Congress and others,to be honored for their achievements.
“Whether we get $250,000 or $1 million,top prize is what we really want,it means the opportunity to change lives in our community,” Bamberg said.
The Broad Foundation's annual award honors five urban school districts around the country with money for scholarships. The $2 million Broad Prize for Urban Education is distributed among five school districts – $1 million to the winning district and $250,000 to each of the other four. The Broad Prize was established in 2002. Broad earned his fortune from his real estate days at Kaufman and Broad and as CEO of SunAmerica.
Population,economic status,percentage of minorities and proximity to an urban community are factors that determine eligibility,said Karen Levesque,program director for MPR Associates,which analyzed data from the competing districts.
Overall student improvement and reducing achievement differences between minority and income groups are important considerations.
The five finalists – Aldine,Florida's Broward County Public Schools,Georgia's Gwinnett County Public Schools,California's Long Beach Unified School District and the Socorro Independent School District in Texas – were selected from 100 eligible candidates.
Aldine,the 66th largest U.S. school district has 72 schools and 60,083 students. More than 80 percent of students are lower income and a third don't speak English well. Aldine has one of the smallest achievement gaps among racial,ethnic and income groups in Texas,and the gaps have continued to narrow.
Rose Avalos,an AISD school board member and product of the school system attended the ceremony.
“One time,I was one who couldn't afford to go to college,but I managed to get a scholarship,” she said “It's such an encouragement,a validation. Not only the opportunity,but that you can do it,” she said.
Bamberg said she expects Aldine to continue to serve as a model for improvement in education. She said she hopes to return the Broad Prize ceremony.
“We are going to celebrate and continue to grow,” Bamberg said “I learned things today from the other finalists. Things that we need to be thinking about too,so we got a long way go.”
Long Beach won in 2003,and Broward County has been a finalist several times. Aldine has been a finalist four times.
“Aldine has been a winner four other times,so this time it was overdue,” Broad said. “They do a magnificent job year after year.”
Gwinnett and Socorro also hope to return.
“We'll be back. I'd be very disappointed if we didn't continue and maintain the pace that we set,” said Socorro Superintendent Xavier De La Torre.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi congratulated the finalists for acting as successful models for other school systems,and the Broad Foundation for its efforts to improve public education.
“On behalf of Congress,this is a great day for public education,” she said.