School & District Management

Urban Education Prize Goes to Garden Grove, Calif.

By Catherine Gewertz — October 01, 2004 1 min read

California’s Garden Grove Unified School District won the Broad Prize for Urban Education last week, in recognition of its progress educating minority and low-income students.

The 50,000-student district, located southeast of Los Angeles in Orange County, was chosen from among five finalists for the nation’s richest education prize bestowed upon a single district. The Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation provides $500,000 to the winner, to be distributed to students as scholarships.

Philanthropist Eli Broad

A panel of judges drawn from business, education, and government evaluates districts on their success in improving student achievement and raising the performance of students from low-income families and from racial and ethnic minority groups.

Laura Schwalm, who is in her sixth year as the superintendent of Garden Grove Unified, said its success stemmed from a shared focus on setting clear but ambitious goals, aligning the district’s operations to those goals, setting high expectations for everyone systemwide, and making sure everyone in that system has opportunities to be successful.

“To receive the top honor exceeds our wildest expectations,” Ms. Schwalm said in an interview shortly after a Los Angeles ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “And the fact that all the money goes to kids is so wonderful.”

Exceeding the Norm

Six in 10 of Garden Grove’s students qualify for subsidized school meals, and half are not yet proficient in English. Yet the district improved reading and mathematics scores on state tests at every school level during the past three years, and it has narrower achievement gaps than the state average, Broad officials said.

The district also got high marks for closely monitoring student performance to guide teaching.

Also chosen as finalists for the Broad Prize were the Boston and Norfolk, Va., public schools, the Aldine Independent School District in Texas, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., district. Each will receive $125,000 to distribute as scholarships.

Eli Broad, the founder of the philanthropy, said that Garden Grove and the four other finalists would showcase their practices at sessions across the country in the coming months.

Garden Grove has been a finalist in each of the two previous years the prize has been given. The past winners are the Houston and Long Beach, Calif., districts.

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