Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Public School Success Stories

Across the Country, public schools and districts are transforming themselves to prepare students for success in a 21st-century democracy and global society. Take a look at what educators and communities are doing right now to meet this challenge.

Or tell us what's working in your own school or district.

Mentors Bridge Gaps to Help First-Generation Students Go to College

Arizona Education News Service

This story and photos were posted with permission from Arizona Education News Service:

Antontrey BegayeAntontrey Begaye knew he wanted to become a physician after doing clinical rotations as a medical assistant in high school while taking career and technical education classes in the Flagstaff Unified School District.

But he wasn’t quite sure how to get there until he received help from mentors Eugene Begay and Kim Kryger at Northern Arizona University’s Educational Talent Search. They encouraged Begaye to apply for financial aid through College Success Arizona and drove him to Phoenix for the interview.

Now Begaye, a recent graduate from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s of health sciences degree, is applying to medical schools.

“College Success Arizona allowed me to focus on that and not worry about any debt or loans to pay back,” Begaye said. “It’s been really great with the impact that they played in my life, my personal development, my educational journey. I’m really grateful for that.”

In the future, Begaye plans to practice internal medicine with community members in Flagstaff and the nearby Rough Rock Navajo reservation where he grew up. ...

California Elementary School Models 21st Century Learning

Story posted October 20, 2015

Katherine Smith Elementary School, a P21 Exemplar school, is a public neighborhood elementary school in the Evergreen School District in San Jose, California. As a New Tech Network school, Katherine Smith was reinvented from a traditional test-driven environment into a 21st century school. The design is based on having a project-based learning curriculum to engage students, an empowering culture, and the technological tools to support the learning. With 650 students, the special education percentage is approximately 8% with special day, resource, and speech services. ...

Sacramento Parent Home-Visit Model Builds Trust, Achievement

The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project

Story posted September 23, 2015

In the low-income neighborhood of South Sacramento in the late 1990’s, parents and guardians were told by the school district that they were “partners” in their children’s education, yet they felt they were treated like problems rather than solutions. Communication, and trust, were at an all-time low. 

Helped by a community-organizing group, ACT, the parents developed an inexpensive and fast way to build positive relationships: train teachers to make voluntary home visits to the families of their students. The founding mothers fought to get a pilot project off the ground, with eight schools participating, and forged a unique collaboration between ACT, the school district (SCUSD) and the teachers union (SCTA). The “project” became a nonprofit organization, and then grew into a national network that now leads more than 100 trainings a year for new schools.  ...

Georgia School District Upgrades Technology Infrastructure to Enhance Learning

Fulton County Schools

Story posted July 13, 2015

Leaders of Fulton County Schools, just outside Atlanta, realized that increasing its use of wireless technologies would bring several challenges, from ensuring the district’s network could handle increased capacity to training teachers on best practices for using devices in the classroom. The school district recently shared its story, below, with LFA.

As part of a personalized learning initiative, where students are issued a personal electronic device by the school, and students and teachers are also encouraged to "bring your own device" (BYOD), problems can arise in the wireless environment if a school is not adequately prepared. When a high volume of people introduce a personal device to the network, the devices attach wirelessly, requiring more capacity and creating more density, and shared technology gets slower. ...

Service-Learning Opportunities and Mental Health Support Help Chicago Students Take Leadership Roles

Coalition for Community Schools

Story posted June 28, 2015

Reposted with permission from the Coalition for Community Schools.

An increase in social-emotional support for students as well as opportunities for them to exercise leadership skills is paying off in increased attendance and the percentage of students on track to graduate at John Hancock College Preparatory High School on Chicago’s southwest side. 

Leadership and service opportunities—whether it’s promoting wellness activities in the school or volunteering in the community—are tied closely to the goals of the school, helping to create a seamless environment that supports learning.

In fact, when Principal Karen Boran learned her school had won an award, she responded, “For what?” because she says the work of the partners is so much a part of how the school operates. Students and families have benefitted, she says, because of “how hard we work to integrate everything.”

The fact that there is stability in partners working with the students and families is another reason why the school is meeting its goals, she says. ...

Baltimore Community Helps Support School in Impoverished, Riot-Stricken Neighborhood

Coalition for Community Schools

Story posted June 28, 2015

Reposted with permission from the Coalition for Community Schools.

Henriette Taylor has only been the community school coordinator at The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School (HSCT) in Baltimore for a little over a year, but she works hard to make sure the school’s “467 amazing little souls” understand the legacy behind the school they attend.

She reminds them to always include “Historic” before the name of the school, which honors a famous English composer and is also where Thurgood Marshall—the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice—began his education.

“Sometimes those beautiful stories, those hard-fought battles are forgotten,” Taylor says. “Knowing your history often defines where you go.”

Working alongside Principal Kelvin Bridgers, who is also new to the school, Taylor is focusing on re-creating the school as a place where staff and partners surround students and families with a seamless web of supports and learning opportunities. “School isn’t just school,” she says. ...

New Building, Community Services Transform Baltimore High School

Coalition for Community Schools

Story posted May 27, 2015.

Republished with permission of the Coalition for Community Schools

When he was hired as the community school coordinator at Benjamin Franklin High School in Baltimore, Dante de Tablan was still learning what it meant to be a community school. But one thing he was certain about was that the front of the building—a former middle school—needed a facelift. The original entrance had been sealed up and another door was being used as the main one.

“You don’t want to miss that opportunity to really make a statement and create a welcoming environment,” de Tablan says, adding that he saw a refurbished entrance as a step toward addressing other needs within the school and community.

The $5 million project, supported by the Baltimore City Public Schools, the state of Maryland and the federal government, was one of the first opportunities for the residents of the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay neighborhoods in Baltimore to be involved in improving a school—the first high school ever in the community. ...

Rural Ariz. School Recognized for Use of Data, Student Choice Initiative

Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Story posted May 24, 2015.

When Cole Young, former principal of Humboldt Elementary School, received an email from a nonprofit organization about how highly performing schools overcome challenges, he initially thought it was an ad asking his school to take part in a competitive application process.

It wasn’t, and Humboldt Elementary is one of five schools in the country highlighted in “Schools that Work,” a series created by Edutopia, a web-based resource and online community created by The George Lucas Educational Foundation. The site focuses on identifying and spreading innovative, replicable, evidence-based approaches to helping students learn better. ...

Tiny Ozarks School Earns National Acclaim for Turnaround Strategies

The Hechinger Report (republished with permission), on St. Paul High School, AR

Story Posted April 29, 2015.

Daisy Dyer Duerr

Every morning, Daisy Dyer Duerr, the principal of tiny St. Paul High School in northwestern Arkansas, ends the morning announcements with a rallying cry: “No excuses. No limits.”

In the isolated, rural town of St. Paul, on the edge of the Ozark Mountains, the streets are dirt and the poverty is generational. Excuses and limits were once easy to accept here.

When Duerr took charge in 2011, St. Paul was a failing school, with lackluster test scores and falling enrollment, on the verge of being taken over by the state. Four years later, it is brimming with technology and ranked in the top 10 percent of Arkansas schools. ...

Dispelling the Myth by Working Together

By the Coalition for Community Schools, on behalf of Menlo Park Elementary School, Oregon

Story posted February 24, 2015.


  • In 2013, fifth graders at Menlo Park Elementary school significantly outperformed their peers across the state in reading and math, despite having higher percentages of low-income students, English language learners and students with disabilities

Recently, the Education Trust honored three outstanding public schools at their Twelfth Annual Dispelling the Myth Awards ceremony. These schools were chosen because, “[they] are doing the right thing for kids: providing a rich, coherent curriculum and making it interesting and engaging for their students. In the process, they are making themselves the kinds of places where teachers want to teach.” ...