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Urban school councils meeting for conference in ABQ

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For decades, problems facing urban school districts, such as Albuquerque Public Schools, have been well-documented. Wide-ranging and widespread, they are not unique to the Duke City.

Beginning Wednesday, nearly 1,000 big-city school board members, superintendents and senior administrators from across the country will gather in Albuquerque for five days to focus on such critical matters as the Common Core standards and other reforms.

The Council of Great City Schools is holding its 57th annual fall conference to Sunday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Albuquerque.

On Thursday evening, all eyes will be on the council’s presentation of the Richard R. Green Award, which APS Superintendent Winston Brooks described as “the most important award a superintendent, administrator or school board member can receive.” It is named for the first black superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools and, later, chancellor of New York City public schools.

One of the five finalists this year is APS board member David Peercy.

But “the pinnacle event of the conference,” according to organizers, will be a 90-minute town hall discussion starting at 2:30 p.m. Friday, described as “a conversation in the round about race, language and culture in America.”

The topic stems from the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in February, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. Brooks, a member of the council’s executive board, said the organization had already been planning to hold a future annual conference in Florida and wanted to make it a point to address the Martin case. Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree will moderate the discussion.

The council is the only national organization of urban districts that serves superintendents, board members and administrators. It represents 66 of the nation’s largest districts – APS is 28th or 29th – and is “probably the strongest lobbying group we have in Washington, D.C.,” Brooks said.

The 66 districts educate about 17 percent of America’s public schoolchildren.

Member districts must serve more than 35,000 students or be the largest in their state. They must be located in a city of at least 250,000. At least half of a district’s students have to qualify for free lunch, and Anglo students must comprise less than a majority.

During the conference, keynote speakers will include former National Football League head coach Tony Dungy, a man active in several nonprofit programs aimed at helping young people; Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, a 20-year Army veteran and motivational speaker with Educational Achievement Services; and David Gergen, a political analyst and adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents.

But the core of the conference is likely to be the 75 or so sessions on such subjects as bilingual education; teacher evaluations; student achievement; achievement gaps among African-American and Latino boys; bullying and the Common Core national standards.

The conference will be the second largest in the council’s history, after one held in Las Vegas, Nev.

“The economic impact in Albuquerque is huge,” Brooks said.

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