Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Achievement, Plus More

John A. Johnson Achievement Plus, Minnesota

Story posted February 5, 2009

• School-wide increases in reading and math test scores for the past three years 
• In mathematics, the school has outperformed the district for the past two years, even though it serves a significantly higher portion of free and reduced-price lunch students

For decades, the Payne Phalen neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, housed generations of immigrants and provided solid factory jobs. However, between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, the neighborhood lost more than 2,500 industrial jobs, and between 1980 and 1990, child poverty increased by 800 percent, according to the U.S. Census.

In the late 1990s, the city of St. Paul began efforts to revitalize the neighborhood through housing and business investment initiatives. As a part of this revitalization, St. Paul Public Schools decided to build a new elementary school where a high school had long stood empty. In partnership with a local philanthropy, the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, St. Paul Public Schools designated this new school as an “Achievement Plus” school. Achievement Plus schools seek to improve student academic performance while developing and strengthening the surrounding community. They follow a three-part model: They follow a standards-based curriculum, provide extended learning opportunities after school, and offer learning supports both at the schools and in the community.

John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School opened its doors in 2000 and now serves 420 prekindergarten through sixth-grade students, 92 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The community is 45 percent African-American, 23 percent white, 13 percent Latino and 2 percent Native American.

Johnson Elementary embodies the idea that schools should serve as centers of the community. The school’s goal is to be a one-stop shop for education, health and human services, as well as a family support and community gathering site. The school embodies each of the main components of Achievement Plus:

Curriculum. Johnson participates in the St. Paul Public Schools’ Project for Academic Excellence, which is a comprehensive school reform model that aligns high academic standards with high-quality curriculum, assessments and professional development.

This project aims to ensure that educators understand how to organize teaching and learning around standards, and that parents understand what falling below, meeting or exceeding the standards means. At Johnson Elementary, bulletin boards in hallways and classrooms display the standards and real samples of student work that meets or exceeds those standards, accompanied by explanations of the work and the criteria.

Extended Learning Opportunities. Johnson’s extended learning program provides a seamless transition from the school day’s instruction to the program’s additional tutoring and instruction, as well as enrichment opportunities for all participants. The program is staffed by a combination of Johnson classroom teachers, college work-study students and independent contractors. Staff members develop individual lesson plans for after-school activities and communicate with classroom teachers to ensure that they reinforce the school day’s lessons.

The program operates Monday through Thursday from 2:30-5 p.m. It begins with a snack in the cafeteria, then moves to classrooms where students in grades k-3 are tutored in reading (either one-on-one or in small groups), and students in grades 4-6 work on academic subjects. The second half of the program provides enrichment activities, such as theater, dance and service learning.

Supports and Services. As a community school, Johnson provides space for community partners in its building, giving families and community members easy access to the services those partners provide. One on-site community partner is a Family Resource Center that provides assistance to school families and community members who are dealing with food, clothing and housing concerns. Nick Faber, Johnson’s building representative to the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, sees the benefits of this structure: “While students are learning, their parents may be at the center looking for jobs or assistance. Or they may be with a housing specialist working on tracking down an absent landlord to do some much needed repairs.”

Johnson Elementary also houses a health clinic where volunteer doctors and nurses provide services to uninsured and underinsured families, and a dental clinic that provides dental screenings and dental services to students, their families and community members. The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation provides on-site mental health counseling for students and families. In addition, the school cafeteria, a large, easily accessible space, is available for community meetings and events in the evenings and on Saturdays. To help families access available services, the school building is open until 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 6 p.m. on Friday.

Johnson also benefits from a partnership with a neighbor. Attached to the school is a full-service, state-of-the-art YMCA, which provides physical education and swimming classes for students. It also houses a Head Start program, a daycare center and a teen center, and provides a variety of after-school and weekend recreational activities.

Johnson’s focus on meeting multiple needs of students and their families is paying off for its students. Over the past three years, the number of students meeting “proficiency” on Minnesota’s state achievement tests has steadily risen in both reading and math. The school, which serves a significantly larger proportion of free and reduced-price lunches than does the district as a whole, has outperformed the district (which serves a significantly lower population of free and reduced price lunch students) in math. Johnson Elementary is an excellent example of how nonacademic services for students and their families can yield strong academic results.

For additional information, please contact:
Melissa Lehmann
Principal, John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School

Nick Faber
Science Teacher and AFT Building Representative, John A. Johnson Achievement Plus Elementary School

Visit the school website at http://johnsonel.spps.org/ 

Or visit http://www.wilder.org/achievementplus.0.html, which contains a downloadable case study of the school. 

This story came to LFA's attention in a series of school profiles by the American Federation of Teachers that highlighted policy recommendations by their President Randi Weingarten.

Story adapted with permission from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Click here to access the original article as contained in the AFT website.

Copyright © 2008 by the American Federation of Teachers.  All Rights Reserved.

Photo courtesy of Johnson Elementary website