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Corona-Norco school district named finalist for prestigious Broad Prize

April 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Teaching is often a struggle for one third grade classroom at Parkridge Elementary School in Corona. Half the students know little English and most of them are from low-income families.

Parents are well aware of the problems.

"When we first moved here, they gave us a letter saying that the school was one of the lower scoring schools in the district," said parent Jerry Rangel.

But things are changing dramatically for the school. The Corona-Norco Unified School District is one of four finalists nationwide for the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education, which recognizes big jumps in performance among low-income and minority students in urban districts across the U.S.

The district now has a 92 percent graduation rate and it has narrowed the graduation gap between white and Asian students and blacks and Latinos.

Corona-Norco's academic achievements are even more astounding given that the district's budget has been cut by $140 million in the past four years.

"This is a prestigious award," said Michael Lin, the district's deputy superintendent. "My understanding is you don't apply for it, it comes to you."

Lin credits the team attitude among the district's teachers.

"There's going to be points where I'm not going to know what to do, but I have a whole team of people that are going to help me," said teacher Debra Collins.

That doesn't mean they always see eye to eye. For example, when they switched over from using the traditional whiteboard to a SMART Board, which is a remote controlled computer projector, some teachers wanted to stick with the old lesson plans. That was the easy thing to do, but they agreed that it would be best for students if they re-did those lesson plans starting from scratch.

"It took us about a year to make up all these wonderful lessons," teacher Patty Evalle said.

Some teachers say they have worked well into the night, sometimes to 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., and they say it's that hard work along with their collaborations that has them on the brink of a nationwide award.

The winner of the Broad Prize, which is awarded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, will be announced in mid-October. The winner will receive $550,000 in college scholarships for its students.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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