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Broad Foundation recognizes CMS as a top urban school district

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is a finalist for a prestigious award that recognizes the system as one of the top five urban school districts in the country. WFAE's Greg Collard reports. CMS is a one of five finalists for what's called the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Superintendent Peter Gorman says it's a big deal in education circles. "This is our Oscars. This is our Academy Awards," he says. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation of Los Angeles recognizes CMS for closing the academic achievement gap that separates black and Hispanic students from white students. "For example, in 2009 Charlotte-Mecklenburg's African-American and Hispanic students achieved higher average proficiency rates than their counterparts in all of North Carolina in reading and math at all school levels," says Karen Dene of the the Broad Foundation. Within CMS, the gap closed between African-Americans and white students in reading and math in all school levels in 2009. Between Hispanic and white students, the gap narrowed in math at all school levels as well. For example, the group says the math gap between white and Hispanic students dropped 9 percentage points between 2007 and 2009. When it comes to reading, that gap narrowed at the middle and high school levels. Superintendent Gorman says the recognition is validation that measures to help struggling schools are working. That effort includes replacing principals at struggling schools and giving their replacements more autonomy and financial incentives for academic improvement. "It also needs to be used as a signpost that's saying, 'OK, while you're on the right path, redouble your efforts on those things that are working and keep moving in the right direction. Work harder, work faster.' That's what we've got to do. We've got to double-down." School systems cannot apply for the Broad Prize; the foundation simply analyzes academic data of the nation's 100 largest districts. CMS gets $250,000 for being a finalist. The money will go toward scholarships. It's now eligible for a $1 million grand prize for scholarships. That award will be based on site visits to the five school districts. Two districts from El Paso, Texas, are among the finalists. The others are in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Gwinnett County, Ga., just outside Atlanta.