Dr. Jonathan Hodges of the Paterson Public Schools Board of Education in New Jersey and Missouri’s Ferguson-Florissant School Board were honored at the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Annual Conference on Sept. 15 before an audience of nearly 1,000 urban school board members.

“At CUBE, we pride ourselves in sharing best practices and showcasing excellence in urban districts,” said CUBE Chair Gill Garrett, who is also President of Pontiac School District Board of Education in Michigan. “In honoring Dr. Hodges and the Ferguson-Florissant School Board, we hope to inspire school boards across the country, but also give them the tools, resources, and network to serve their communities and ensure that their students have access to the best education possible.”

Dr. Hodges received the 2023 Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to representing the educational needs of urban schoolchildren through their service as a local school board member.

During in his acceptance speech, Dr. Hodges, a retired physician and 21-year member of the Paterson Public Schools Board of Education, described how he first decided to run for school board while working as an emergency room (ER) physician. In witnessing the struggles of young people in the ER, including those who experienced violence, he recognized that students with significant medical needs also often had significant educational needs. As a board member, Hodges became a leader in addressing financial misappropriations and landmark court battles to reform funding for education and infrastructure. He continues to fight for the high-quality education that Paterson’s children deserve.

“I have delivered babies in the hospital,” Hodges said. “I have restarted hearts that have stopped, but I can't wash the memory of the young people who didn’t have to die and the others who were cheated out of an education. It’s not a shame that someone loses or doesn't get a good education — it's a deadly proposition. You're lucky if you get in prison because many of our young men in particular don't make it out of that hospital. So while I want to thank CUBE, NSBA, and my colleague, Dania Martinez, who nominated me, I can only accept this award as a down payment against the work that is yet to be done. We all have to roll up our sleeves and win. Not just participate, but win, because our children are too important, too precious to lose.”

“Dr. Hodges is, quite literally, a lifesaver,” said NSBA Executive Director and CEO Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs. “Not only because of his time as an emergency room doctor, but because of his commitment and passion to ensuring that Paterson’s students have access to the funding, quality teaching, infrastructure, and other resources that each child in America deserves and should have.”

BEM Award winner Dr. Jonathan Hodges with CUBE Chair Gill Garrett and NSBA CEO Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs

From left: CUBE Chair Gill Garrett; Diana Baker Freeman, Senior Manager for Modern Governance Advocacy & Initiatives at Diligent, which sponsored the award; Paterson Public Schools Board of Education Member Dr. Jonathan Hodges; and NSBA Executive Director and CEO Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs.

The Ferguson-Florissant School Board received the 2023 Award for Urban School Excellence, which considers four core areas of governance: School Board Performance; Academic Improvement; Educational Equity; and Community Engagement.

Located in the city of Hazelwood, in suburban St. Louis County, the 9,500-student Ferguson-Florissant School District’s stated mission is to provide high-quality instruction “to every student in every neighborhood while prioritizing equity and compassionate relationships.” Focused on data-driven decision-making and evidence-based practices, the Ferguson-Florissant board works toward measurable improvements in student achievement and narrowing opportunity gaps. It recently adopted a series of antiracist standards to further educational equity for all students, especially those most marginalized.

“Receiving the CUBE Urban Board of Excellence Award is a testament to our unwavering commitment to ensure that every student receives an equitable education in the Ferguson-Florissant School District,” said Dr. Courtney Graves, Board President of Ferguson-Florissant School District. “Together, we've overcome trials and tribulations, cultivated a culture of excellence, and secured our promise of a brighter future. This recognition is a reminder that when a community comes together, we can achieve greatness. Our journey continues, guided by the belief that education is the key to unlocking limitless possibilities for our students, our families, and our community. It's worth noting that our board, once a non-majority Black representation, now stands as a symbol of unity and progress, ready to lead with renewed purpose and determination. We understand that by providing the necessary emotional supports and resources, building trusting relationships, delivering quality instruction, and ensuring equitable social and academic opportunities to our most marginalized scholars, we will positively impact the trajectory of their future endeavors and well-being. Together, we are the architects of a brighter and more equitable future for all.”

“I applied for this job nine years ago because of what happened to Michael Brown,” said Ferguson-Florissant Superintendent Dr. Joseph Davis during his acceptance speech. “Too many of our black sons are dying and it is our responsibility as black men to stand and take responsibility for what is happening with our children.”

Davis stressed the importance of rewriting the story of Ferguson that focuses on the district’s impressive achievements, including the highest growth in mathematics in the St. Louis region on state assessments; a 93.6% four-year graduation rate, including a 94% four-year graduation rate for black boys; 92% of incoming STEAM Academy ninth-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the eighth-grade state math assessment; and STEAM Academy at McCluer South-Berkeley High School being named as one of the best high schools in America by U.S. News and World Report.

“Let me be real clear that we are not there yet,” Davis said. “We still have a lot of work to do. Our school board believes in building community and engaging our community and meeting them where they are and not where we think they ought to be. But let it be said today across America that the Ferguson story is being rewritten.”

“The Ferguson-Florissant School District has made a transformational change, emerging from one of its darkest days with the killing of Michael Brown nearly 10 years ago,” said McCotter-Jacobs. “Today, its future — and the future of the students it serves — is extremely bright, evidenced by tremendous gains in math, graduation rates, and college readiness.”

Leaders from Missouri Ferguson-Florissant School District with CUBE Chair Gill Garrett and NSBA CEO Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs

CUBE Chair Gill Garett (far right) and NSBA Executive Director and CEO Verjeana McCotter-Jacobs (second from left) with Ferguson-Florissant School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Davis (far left), School Board President Dr. Courtney Graves (third from left), and other members of the Ferguson-Florissant School Board.

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