Brownsville Wins Broad Prize

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

October 16, 2008

By Katie Campos, DFER Development Director

Brownsville Independent School District (BISD), from southern Texas, was awarded the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education this week at the MOMA in New York City. BISD is made up of nearly 50,000 students, 94% of which are eligible for free and reduced-price school lunch, and 43% of which are English language learners.

The Broad Foundation identified 100 school districts as eligible for the prize based on criteria including size, urbanicity, and low-income and minority enrollment. Five finalists were represented yesterday: Brownsville Independent School District (TX); Aldine Independent School District (TX); Miami-Dade County Public Schools (FL); Broward County Public Schools (FL); and Long Beach Unified School District (CA).  The Broad Foundation recently doubled the Prize to $2 million to be divided among college-bound seniors in each school district that have shown improvement and commitment to higher education. Brownsville received $1 million, and the four finalists received $250,000 each.

The banquet began with a panel of five superintendents, representing the finalist school districts, fielding questions about policy and ideology. On the most effective policy that was implemented in the district, superintendent of BISD, Hector Gonzalez, simply said, “children first.” Gonzalez spoke about the community effort to educate children regardless of their race…”no excuses!”  On the universal perception that plagues public education, the perception that there are two different standards for white and minority children, Gonzalez said shortly, “only one.” He spoke about the Brownsville community as part of a global society, again confirming that BISD ideology is strongly rooted in educating the student, not the race, and adding to the global society by producing educated citizens. “Education equals foundation,” Gonzalez added spiritedly.

The panel of superintendents was in harmony, declaring the importance of data driven programs and policy and institutionalizing what works and scrapping what doesn’t. Wanda Bamberg, representing Aldine Independent School District, confirmed that institutionalizing any program requires a three-point management system of monitoring development, communication, and support. Based on hard data, innovative and effective programs will be designed and implemented.  Christopher Steinhauser, representing Long Beach Unified School District in California, spoke about the Academic and Career Success Initiative, to increase college readiness and guaranteed admittance into two local colleges.

Following the panel of superintendents, a press conference announcing the winner of the Broad Prize was held in the lobby of the MOMA. The atmosphere was spirited and friendly, sprinkled with education warriors and champions. I placed a bet with DFER Chief of Staff Brienne Bellavita that Brownsville would win the Prize because they have done the most with the least; “no excuses,” they educated children regardless of race-a seemingly obvious concept that was lost on public education before and after 1954, when “separate but equal” officially became unconstitutional. The universal perception of two separate standards for white and minority students creates an unequal education and bigger achievement gap. “Only one!” In the Brownsville Independent School District, with mostly minority and poor students, only one high standard is expected, and the students made great strides.

Two former federal secretaries of education, Richard Riley and Rod Paige, opened the winning envelope together to symbolize both parties coming together to improve education. Brownsville was named and minutes of cheering, laughter and high-fives ensued.  Gonzalez, overwhelmed with appreciation and at a loss for words, expressed his genuine gratitude to the audience, students, teachers, and every person that has selflessly worked to ensure that children are the priority.