The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, a growing, ethnically diverse district in south-central North Carolina, has won the prestigious Broad Prize for this year.
The award was announced here Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a model for innovation in urban education,” he said in remarks prepared before the announcement.
The Broad Prize, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, comes with a $550,000 award that will be distributed as college scholarships for the district’s high school seniors. The three other districts that were finalists—the Broward County and Miami-Dade systems in Florida and the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas—will each receive $150,000 in scholarships for their students.
The 133,600-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, which was recognized by the foundation for its work in reducing achievement gaps, is about 33 percent white, 41 percent black, 16 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian, American Indian, or multiracial. About 53 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, a commonly used measure of student poverty, and 10 percent are designated as English-language learners.
Like the other districts that were finalists this year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg had been singled out by the award program before. The district was a finalist in 2004 and 2010.
Hugh Hattabaugh, the district’s interim superintendent, said in an interview before the announcement was made that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district had made strides on more than two dozen education indicators, including improved graduation rates, SAT scores, and scores on end-of-course exams.
The nomination “really says wonders about our teachers and their commitment to excellence,” said Mr. Hattabaugh, who has served as interim superintendent since July.
Peter Gorman was the superintendent from 2006 to June of this year. He left the district to become a senior vice president with New York City-based News Corp., which is expanding into the education technology marketplace. Mr. Gorman is also a 2004 graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains business executives, retired military officers, education administrators, and others to work in the nation’s largest school districts.
The Broad Prize is the largest education award honoring school districts. Its purpose is to reward districts that improve achievement for disadvantaged students, to highlight successful urban districts and promote best practices, and to create an incentive for districts to improve. Last year, the Gwinnett County, Ga., district outside Atlanta won the award.
Seventy-five urban school districts are identified each year as eligible candidates for the award, based on size, low-income enrollment, minority enrollment, and urban environment. School districts are nominated for the prize but cannot apply themselves.
A 21-person review board then narrowed the list of candidates to four, basing the selections mostly on quantitative data. A second panel of seven business, government, and education leaders chose the winner of the prize.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the 10th recipient of the Broad Prize. When the program started in 2002, the total prize was $1 million, but the money was increased to $2 million in 2007. This year, the award was scaled back to its original level of $1 million so that the program can be sustained over future years, the Broad Foundation said.
Among other achievements of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, the panelists noted that in 2010, 62 percent of the district’s black students took the SAT—the highest participation rate for black seniors among the 75 districts eligible for the prize.
Also, the district was more successful than 70 percent of other districts in North Carolina at increasing the percentage of middle and high school students who performed at the highest level on state tests in reading and math, according to the Broad Foundation. The foundation also praised the district’s management structure, noting that teachers receive performance bonuses for student improvement and that principals have “unusual leeway to make their mark” on schools.
A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2011 edition of Education Week