More than 1,200 of the nation’s big-city school leaders and educators exchanged their best strategies during the Council of the Great City Schools 59th Annual Fall Conference held last week in Long Beach.
About 75 discussion sessions focused on topics such as equity and equality in education, Common Core Standards and teacher effectiveness, all tied to the conference theme of Sailing to Success in Urban Education. Student musicians and dancers provided numerous performances throughout the conference, while student artists supplied an exhibit of paintings depicting their favorite places in the city. Several educators from the Long Beach Unified School District presented at the conference, which was attended by educators from more than 60 school systems.
Speakers at the conference included former NASA astronaut Jose M. Hernandez and CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria. Hernandez shared a compelling story of how one teacher positively impacted his life, helping him overcome tough odds as a child of migrant farm workers.
“My story is not unique. There are a lot of stories like mine in your school districts,” Hernandez told educators during a packed session at the Hyatt Regency. “You educators make a big difference. I’m a product of the public school system. The system works, and it’s only because you take the time to change the trajectory of so many families.”
CNN’s Zakaria warned against narrow comparisons with other nations based on test scores such as the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores. Though the United States has not ranked highly on the tests, he said, the U.S. is “the most successful country in the history of the world.” He said that American schools should focus less on emulating schools in other countries, and focus more on the qualities of innovation and creativity that have made this nation successful.
“The answer for American education, most importantly, is being more like ourselves,” Zakaria said.
LBUSD Board of Education President Felton Williams is president-elect of the Council of the Great City Schools, which is the nation’s primary coalition of large, urban school districts. As one of the presenters at the conference, Williams joined LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser and Head Counselor Kimberley Johnson of the Equity, Access/College and Career Readiness Office in explaining how the school district has significantly expanded student access to Advanced Placement college prep courses.
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, stated in a note to Williams and Steinhauser that the conference was his organization’s best ever:
“I am writing to thank you and the city of Long Beach once more for the extraordinary welcome you showed conferees last week at the annual conference of the Great City Schools. And I thank you for the tremendous effort you put forward in hosting and organizing the meeting. It appeared to us that everything came off flawlessly. The table and room decorations were fabulous; the student entertainment ranks among the best we have seen or heard anywhere; the transportation to the Queen Mary was great; the volunteers were invaluable; and the bands were wonderful. Even the weather cooperated. The reception with your mayor, former mayor and other city leaders was a special treat. And, the students you provided for the town hall meeting knocked everyone's socks off. Kudos, of course, go to Judy Seal (executive director of the Long Beach Education Foundation) and Jim Petri (LBUSD music curriculum leader) who were responsible for so much of the conference's success. They were both a lot of fun to work with, and they had taken care of every detail. But I know that these things don't come off well unless the district's leadership has supported the effort and ensured that everything met the highest standards. And this is where I am profoundly grateful to both of you. It was our best conference ever – and I thank you many times over.”