What did Brownsville, Tex., honored yesterday with the Broad Prize and earlier this year with the CUBE Award for School Board Excellence, do to earn these awards?

It cut class size and built more schools, among other changes, according to articles in CUBE’s Urban Advocate newsletter and US News & World Report.

“Curriculum and instruction has been the number one focus of every board member,” says Enrique Escobedo, president of the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Education. “We fill our needs first—the needs drive the budget.”

Brownsville stopped asking Texas for exemptions from class size rules in elementary schools, and instead upped teacher recruitment and retention measures until all classes met the state’s 22-student mandate for kindergarten through grade 4.

Teachers in Brownsville make a starting salary of $39,000, only a few thousand dollars less than new teachers in New York, though the cost of living in Brownsville is much lower. (Salaries in New York are much higher at the top of the scale, though.)

Despite high levels of poverty, the Brownsville community has strongly supported the schools, even approving a $135-million bond to finance school construction and renovation. School board members attribute this support to regular outreach through community meetings, citizen oversight of spending, and transparency about school finances, Urban Advocate reports.

Outreach to families includes parenting workshops, exercise classes and other community activities, designed not only to educate parents but to empower them, and the schools celebrate the children’s Mexican-American heritage.

The district also made a commitment to bilingual education, rather than English immersion, and according to Urban Advocate, “nearly all” of their K-4 teachers have bilingual certification.

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