Two School Districts Awarded 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
2014 image

Educators in both Gwinnett County, pictured, and Orange County use student data to improve teaching and learning.

Gwinnett County in Georgia and Orange County in Florida are the first districts to share the award.


For the first time, two school districts have won The Broad Prize for Urban Education, a prestigious annual award. The prize is given to large, urban districts that boast strong overall student performance and success in reducing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students.

Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and Orange County Public Schools in Florida were awarded the prize today.

“Both of these districts show that it’s possible to make sharp, sustained progress with a large, diverse population,” says Bruce Reed, president of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which sponsors the competition.

The districts will evenly split the $1 million prize – the largest award given in public education – and dole the money out as college scholarships for high school seniors.

“We were impressed with Gwinnett County’s steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County’s urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a member of the selection jury, said in a statement. “In the end, we decided that both finalists deserved to win the 2014 Broad Prize.”

The two districts share very similar demographics, Reed says. Both are diverse and among the largest districts in the country in terms of enrollment.

Gwinnett County won the 2010 Broad Prize and was a finalist for the award in 2009. Reed says the district’s stable leadership, focus on developing good teachers and principals, and commitment to challenging its students have contributed to the district’s success.

A greater percentage of low-income students, as well as black students, are reaching advanced academic levels than in other districts in Georgia, according to The Broad Foundation.

​​”The two positions in the school district that really determine whether or not you are going to be successful are your teachers and your principals,” says J. Alvin Wilbanks, who has been chief executive officer and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools since 1996.

He attributes the district’s success to effective educators. Gwinnett County has focused on leadership development and providing teachers with data, such as student achievement and attendance information, ​to improve their instruction.

The district’s high school seniors​ also have the highest SAT participation rate among eligible districts for The Broad Prize. Seventy-five of the largest urban school districts in the country are automatically eligible for the prize each year. [See rankings of the Best High Schools.]

First-time finalist and winner Orange County in Florida ​has made remarkable gains in student achievement in recent years, says Reed, of The Broad Foundation.

​​”We can’t afford for every school to be an individual entity because our children move in and out of our schools too regularly,” says superintendent Barbara Jenkins, on the realities of managing an urban school district.

The ​district has focused on centralizing curriculums and programs throughout the district, she says, so that educators spend less time catching new students up, which often actually slows them down.

Officials also try to adhere to a strategic, long-term plan created nearly five years ago​, she says.

“I think you have to purposely discard practices and efforts that have not been working and get more toward what is working for your children,” she says. Like Gwinnett County, officials in Orange County place a strong emphasis on using student performance and other data to inform decisions.​​

​The district has narrowed income and minority achievement gaps, improved college readiness and, in recent years, raised achievement among low-income middle school students, according to The Broad Foundation. [Learn why some think prospective teachers should have more rigorous testing requirements.]

The two winners of the 2014 Broad Prize were also the only two finalists for the award.

In years past, four or five districts were selected as finalists, Reed says, but the review board, which selected the finalists​, was disappointed with the overall performance of the eligible districts. They decided that only these districts had done sufficiently well to become ​finalists.

“Both these districts show that able, aggressive leadership is important to raising student achievement,” Reed says.

Jenkins, of Orange County, notes that urban educators have the challenge of educating students of many different backgrounds.

“That’s what makes urban education so exciting,” she says. “You serve all of those children, wherever you find them, and get them all to high levels of achievement that we believe that they are capable of.”

Stay up to date with the U.S. News High School Notes blog.​

Win Field Trips to Stone Mountain Park!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014



Fall 2014 –  THE 20TH CENTURY BEGINS: 1899-1939 Program  –

STONE MOUNTAIN PARK offers many interactive and engaging educational opportunities in both the social studies and sciences this school year that align with GCPS AKS.   For information on this program please visit:   FREE SCIENCE KITS for on-sight science field trips!    



This fall enter your class in the “Write Your Own Ticket” contest.    DEADLINE: September 12, 2014



Win a Free Georgia History Field Trip of your Choice at Stone Mountain Park Plus Bus Transportation!

Details: Enter your class in the “Write Your Own Ticket” GCPS Contest for a chance to win your choice of a FREE Civil War in Georgia, Colonial Georgia or Antebellum Life field trip including bus transportation to Stone Mountain Park in the spring. Your choice of one of these three free educational field trips is being offered exclusively to GCPS and is courtesy of Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation and Stone Mountain Park! 
 History field trips correlate with GCPS social studies 1st through 8th grade AKS.                       DEADLINE:  JANUARY 30, 2015

Ask about Snow Mountain Snow Day for schools on December 12, 2014! 770-498-5636

Maureen Slawitschka
Education Coordinator
Stone Mountain Park

Broad Party Watch!!

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

2014 Broad Announcement Invitation_webres


GCPS is a finalist for the 2014 Broad Prize!

Monday, September 8th, 2014

BroadPrizeStatueGCPS is a finalist for the 2014 Broad Prize!

Share what you love most about our schools and why GCPS should win on FB/Twitter. Include @GwinnettSchools, #broadprize, and a picture.







ACT results surpass state, national avgs

Thursday, August 21st, 2014
The ACT is an exam used by colleges and universities to predict how well students will perform at the post-secondary level. Students are encouraged to take the ACT, as well as the SAT, to provide a broad range of information for college admissions counselors.
The ACT is an exam used by colleges and universities to predict
how well students will perform at the post-secondary level. Students
are encouraged to take the ACT, as well as the SAT, to provide a
broad range of information for college admissions counselors.
Recent high school graduates in Georgia have improved the state’s results on the ACT, but the state is below the national average in score and ranking.

In Gwinnett County Public Schools, students surpassed state and national averages with a composite score of 21.9 out of a scale of one to 36.

The number of Georgia high school students taking the ACT has increased by 29 percent since 2010, with a total of 50,697 students taking the test in 2014. Ninety-one percent of this year’s ACT-tested graduates aspired to post-secondary education.

In addition, the number of participating GCPS students increased from 4,369 in 2013 to 4,597 in 2014.

Gwinnett welcomes 800 educators

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

New Teachers

DULUTH — Celeste Strohl has worked in education long enough to know the back-to-school feeling, first as a teacher and then as a central office employee.

Yet this summer, Strohl is getting re-certified in Reading Recovery 20 years after she was in the first class offered in Gwinnett. While she retired from Gwinnett County Public Schools’ federal and special programs department, she never left education.

For the last four years, Strohl has tutored students at Stripling Elementary in Norcross. But to start this school year, she will work part-time as a Reading Recovery teacher at Stripling as the district added about 40 of those positions in its latest budget.

“I have never been so excited and so energized about the opportunity to work with children again,” Strohl said. “It’s just having a chance to make a difference in children’s lives. Having worked as a teacher and in the central office, I know that the most important interaction in Gwinnett County goes on in the classroom between the teacher and the child.”

That feeling played out on the stage and in several ballrooms at the Gwinnett Center on Tuesday as more than 800 teachers began their career or their first year in Gwinnett at the annual orientation event. The district has hired 847 new teachers and re-hired 424 teachers who started after the first day of school last year. It also re-hired 84 retirees, and counts 38 teaching vacancies remaining, district spokesman Jorge Quintana said.

New GCPS Teachers

Back to School 2014

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Stripling ES
Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS), the largest school system in Georgia, will welcome approximately 3,200 new students to its classrooms in 2014, bringing the system’s total student enrollment to more than 172,000 students. Two new schools brings total number of facilities to 134.

With the opening of these two new schools, the school district will operate 77 elementary schools, 27 middle schools, 19 high schools, five charter schools, and six special

10,854 graduates – 84% heading to college

Thursday, June 12th, 2014


After 13 years of hard work during their K-12 academic careers, close to 11,000 students will earn their high school diploma from Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) this week.

The 10,854 high school seniors will walk across the stage this week as the school district congratulates the Class of 2014, the largest and most decorated to date. “This has been a great year in GCPS and we are very proud of the Class of 2014,” says CEO/Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks. “Their success in the classroom and in extracurricular activities is notable and has earned them more than $148 million in scholarships— the most ever earned by a class. I am proud of the firm academic foundation these students received in our schools and know that this will serve them well into the future.”

The senior report for the Class of 2014 shows that: 84% of the students graduating this year report that they plan to continue their education by attending college or postsecondary schools. The vast majority, or 84% of them, plan to attend college in Georgia.

• The seniors who plan to continue their education have been offered, as of April of 2014, more than $148 million in academic, athletic, and military scholarships.

• The majority of the scholarship amount, more than $90.5 million, was earned for academic achievement. Gwinnett students also received $52.7 million in athletic scholarships, and $5 million due to military appointments. The monetary awards do not include HOPE, the QuestBridge Scholarship recipients, or the Gates Millennium Scholars.

• As of May of 2014, 19 Gwinnett seniors earned a full scholarship through the QuestBridge College Match Program. Nine of the seniors are Berkmar High graduates. (*QuestBridge has named additional winners and this number will be updated once the information has been verified.)

• 15 Gwinnett students, including three from Meadowcreek High and a second group of three seniors from Norcross High, will have their college career paid in full as Gates Millennium Scholars.

• 14 students received military appointments.

Two Shiloh Friends Win Prestigious Scholarships

Monday, June 2nd, 2014
Shiloh Grads

2014 Shiloh graduates Justin Willis and Brandon Johnson.

After they graduate from Shiloh High School tonight, Justin Willis and Brandon Johnson will no longer share the same campus. Justin is going to Brown in Rhode Island and Brandon will be at Rollins in Orlando. The two friends have both received highly competitive scholarships and have exciting futures ahead of them.

Justin Willis is a QuestBridge Scholar. These scholarships are given by QuestBridge member schools. Justin knows, “The odds of winning Questbridge are really small.” Last December, Justin found out he’d beaten those odds. His mom Lavettra says of the award, “I cried. Since he was in elementary school, I’ve been praying for it. It was an answered prayer. I knew my prayers had not gone on deaf ears.”

Brandon Johnson learned about his own scholarship in April. Brandon is a Gates Millennium Scholar, an award funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  He’ll be studying computer engineering at Rollins.

Patrick Johnson, Brandon’s dad, grins when asked about his reaction to Brandon’s scholarship.  “Guys don’t cry,” Patrick says, then laughs, “Yes, I do!” Patrick and his wife Noelle were driving home when they saw a large envelope in the mailbox. “My wife jumps out of the car, rips it open, and reads ‘Congratulations’ across the top,” says Patrick. “We were screaming and crying. We went nuts. Because we know what it means for him.”

The two managed to keep the surprise a secret until Brandon got home. Then more rejoicing, followed by a night out. “We’re at a Chinese restaurant,” Patrick remembers, “and Brandon’s not eating anything.” Brandon admits, “I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t thoroughly express myself.”

Originally from New York, the Johnsons have enjoyed living in Snellville. Brandon says, “There are so many opportunities here.” He remembers the first extra-curricular activity his parents enrolled him in – swim team. A bold choice, considering Brandon did not know how to swim. “It was a 25-meter pool and the instructor lines us up to do a lap. I jump in and just sink to the bottom.” Brandon is now head lifeguard at that same pool. He will be working there this summer, while Justin works at Kroger.

Justin got a visit at work after he received his QuestBridge award. His family had become friends with the Johnsons during the scholarship application process, so Patrick showed up at Kroger congratulating him, “Justin! You got it!” Not long afterward, Justin learned he got into Brown, and both families rejoiced.

Among Ivy League schools, Brown University is known as being more laid-back. “It has what’s called open curriculum,” explains Justin, “as there’s no specific course requirements for each degree.  Since each student maps his own path, there is much more collaboration and less competition.”  This should be a great environment for Justin to study business administration. He’d like to be a business executive in a large southern city after he graduates.

Justin looks forward to the communal nature of Brown, which is similar to Snellville.  He cites events like Snellville Days, saying “Snellville values community and that’s important to me.”

No word yet on whether these friends plan to collaborate someday on a computer-related business venture.  For now they go their separate ways with a degree in hand and a loving support system around them.

Four former Mason Elementary students all accepted by Harvard

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Former Mason Elementary students, from left, Sam Weyen, of Greater Atlanta Christian, Alex Peed, of Peachtree Ridge High, Willie Jin of the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology and Leesa Quinlan of Peachtree Ridge recently posed for a picture at the school. All four were accepted to Harvard University, and Peed, Quinlan and Jin plan to attend Harvard, while Weyen plans to attend Stanford University. (Gwinnett Daily Post Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

DULUTH — They dressed up as Greek gods, memorized songs by the Beatles and built a replica of the International Space Station — all before middle school.

For a group of four students who began their school careers at Mason Elementary, learning was fun and they enjoyed coming to school. While they’ve moved on to different schools, and won’t all attend the same university, they have one thing in common again: All four were accepted to Harvard University.

Three of them, Leesa Quinlan, Willie Jin and Alex Peed plan to enroll at Harvard this fall, while Sam Weyen chose to attend Stanford University. Weyen, the valedictorian at Greater Atlanta Christian, first met Quinlan and Peed, who each graduated from Peachtree Ridge High, and Jin, the valedictorian at the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology, in the Focus program for gifted students at Mason.

While his pros and cons list leaned toward Harvard, Weyen said he couldn’t keep himself from researching and asking about Stanford, which eventually settled his conscience.

“So that right there proved to me that’s where I want to go,” said Weyen, who plans to visit his buddies at Harvard. “That was one of my big selling points, I wanted to be with these people again.”

They were all taught by Abby Lockhart, who has taught gifted students for 14 years and been a teacher overall for 37 years. She saw enough in this quartet and their classmates to start algebra in the third grade and order the Charles Dickens classic “Great Expectations” for their fifth-grade year.

“I read it in eighth grade,” Lockhart said, “but I figured these were such fantastic minds, that they could read it.”

The group as a whole was very inquisitive.

“They were all very determined to learn all they could,” Lockhart said. “They always wanted to know why. They say gifted kids ask why, regular students just answer the question. … I never gave them anything they couldn’t do. They always wanted more and I think that’s the mark of an academically-gifted person.”

If, for one reason, there wasn’t Focus class that day, Lockhart said the students would maneuver her schedule to accomodate.

“You don’t need to eat lunch,” she recalled them saying. “You need to teach us.”

Trying to shape them as global students, Lockhart said she tried to expose them to many subjects so they would know a little something about everything. While she’s hesistant to take credit, Lockhart said she’s proud of their accomplishments, and students like them, “make you want to be a teacher.”

“We were really, by the end, friends,” she said.

While the four students have college acceptance in common, their entire gifted class was above average, and others plan to attend Duke University and Georgia Tech.

“There is a major sense of respect for everybody because you’ve seen what they can do and what they’re capable of,” Quinlan said. “This is a very special group of people.”

It was in Lockhart’s class that Weyen was first introduced to poetry, and he’s come to enjoy writing. And Weyen added that teachers like Lockhart made him want to do everything, not just one thing.

What set the four apart was their willingness to try anything, and being super-competitive.

Yet other students in the class chose a subject, from World War II history to building a candy bar company, that became their focus. Group projects also developed friendships.

“The whole group was so gifted,” Quinlan said. “But some people chose to focus their effort into a particular passion. We didn’t limit ourselves to any one particular area. We were able to try everything and be good at everything.”

While Peed has chosen to study economics and finance with hopes to enter the investment industry, the others are undecided about their majors and careers. Weyen could see himself working on the television show “MythBusters” or hosting the “Tonight Show,” while Quinlan plans to become a lawyer — if they don’t become President of the United States.

Jin, the others agree, could be the next Steve Jobs, unless he serves in their White House cabinet.

Whatever they choose, at least three of them may end up studying right next to each other, just like they did 13 years ago.

“It’s so great to know people going to the same school as you, not to know their name, or know they went to the same school as you, but to actually know them and to be in school with them for so long and know you have another four years together,” Quinlan said.