The Business Council created the Pathfinder Awards to recognize elementary schools that showed the most improvement from one year to the next as demonstrated by their results on the 4th grade English Language Arts test. As approved by the Board of Directors in December of 1999, the purpose of the Pathfinder Awards program was two-fold.

Award presentations for 2000 were made mostly in conjunction with chambers of commerce in the late fall (2000) through early spring (2001). The Pathfinder Award consists of a $1,000 award and a specially designed trophy by an upstate artist (Richard Harrington). To insure statewide distribution of the awards we decided to honor the two most improved schools in a Judicial District (except in special circumstances where only tenths of a percentage point difference in improvement separated the schools). Winning schools had the greatest percentage improvement in their Judicial District with a threshold of at least 50 percent of their students performing at levels 3 and 4 (meeting and exceeding the standards).

A total of 27 awards were given out because three schools received the award in one Judicial District and four schools received it in another. We utilized Judicial Districts because they correspond to the regions from which members of the Board of Regents are elected.

Where we could arrange it, the award was presented at an event hosted by a local Chamber of Commerce or other business group. And a Business Council staff person attended almost all of the award presentations.

Learning from the Winners

Attending the award presentations gave us the opportunity to met and learn from the winners.

One crucial observation was that the winners are winners: they are fired up, they know what they're doing, they believe in themselves,and they believe in their students. They were not generally the suburban schools that everyone points to as models of excellence; whether upstate or down, they generally had higher-than-average poverty levels.

Here are some common themes of the award winning schools:

Here are a few snapshots of what we learned in meeting these winners.

"When we received our 2000 ELA scores we were again surprised. Although we had expected to see an improvement from the previous year, we had no idea it would be so dramatic We were thrilled to see such a turn around. But frankly, although the papers had been quick to criticize, no one seemed to notice the positive change. You cannot imagine how much it meant to my staff to have such a prestigious organization recognize their accomplishment. Not only that but to reward it with a generous financial contribution and a trophy was icing on the cake."

It cannot be over-stated what it meant to Elaine Moon that the business community noticed!

As gratifying as that experience was, it got even better when we presented the award to a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant – the poorest community in Brooklyn.

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