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Corona-Norco is finalist for Broad Prize, wins $150,000

October 23, 2012 |  9:43 am

Corona-Norco Unified School District -– one of four finalists nationwide –- fell short of securing the top spot in a coveted national education competition but still landed $150,000 in scholarship money.

The Inland Empire district, largely Latino and low-income, vied against three other districts -– two in Florida and one in Texas -– for the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

About 60 people gathered in Corona High School's Performing Arts Center Tuesday morning for a party to watch the decision.

The announcement came after some words from a former Broad scholarship recipient and keynote speaker Adm. Michael Mullen, who noted that he was happy to see a California district in the running.

"It's a state, quite frankly, that I've been worried about for a long time," Mullen said.

Then came U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"Now comes the good part. Is there an envelope?" Duncan asked.

After a brief pause, he read the winner: Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida.

One woman in the audience at Corona High School gasped quietly and then a rhythmic clap echoed through the auditorium.

The room fell silent and then a man from the back row screamed "Good job, Corona Norco."

Then came a much louder applause and a few screams.

Districts can’t apply for the Broad Prize, which honors academic excellence and improvement in urban districts. Instead, a panel of education experts analyzes available test scores and graduation data and singles out four districts.

The panel found, for example, that in 2011, the reading, math and science skill difference between black students and white students in Corona-Norco was one of the narrowest in the state.

While two of the finalists have won the prize in the past, this year was Corona Norco’s first nomination.

For district school board President Bill Newberry, the nomination was a validation.

“I have felt that I’m in a great place and I have felt that we are doing things way beyond the norm,” Newberry said. “Hearing this news was more a validation of what we were doing than a surprise.”

Kent Bechler, the district’s recently retired superintendent, said despite Tuesday’s results, Corona-Norco will have won.

“If you know public education like I do, you see how difficult it is to change bureaucracy and have people really focus on what the work is,” Bechler said. “I know people assume those things happen, but that’s not really the case and our district has done that.”

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