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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.

The Long Turnaround

Bracken Reed, on behalf of Central Elementary, Roundup, Montana

Story posted August 27, 2009.  Results updated August 24, 2014

Results:

  • In 2013, 89% of students scored proficient or advanced in math, exceeding the state profiency rate by 4% while serving a larger proportion of disadvantaged students
  • In 2013, 69% of students scored proficent or advanced in math, exceeding the state proficiency rate by 4%

According to the numbers, Central Elementary School in Roundup, Montana, seems to fit the currently fashionable definition of a “turnaround” school. After many years of below-average test scores, the school has recently made double-digit gains in the number of its students meeting proficiency on the statewide assessment. In true turnaround fashion, that improvement appears to have happened in a very short period of time.

As recently as the 2005–2006 school year, for example, Central’s math score was nearly 20 percentage points below the state average. In the following school year that proficiency rate went up by 16 percent, and by 2007–2008 the school was six points higher than the state average in math. Meanwhile, the school’s reading score, while consistently above the state average, also rose by nearly 20 percentage points between 2003–2004 and 2007–2008. This fall the school received a National Title I Distinguished School award, based on “exceptional student performance for two or more consecutive years.”

Ask current principal Vicki Begin about the school’s success, however, and she’ll insist that it’s been anything but a quick turnaround. in fact ...

Finding a Way

NASSP Breakthrough Schools on Behalf of Alice Ott Middle School, Oregon

Story posted August 26, 2014

Results:

  • Currently an Oregon Model school, a designation reserved for the highest-performing top 10% of schools in the state (a significant change compared to 2008, when student achievement was lackluster with significant achievement gaps)

James Johnston asked teachers at Alice Ott Middle School in Portland, OR, “What would you want done if your child’s name was on this list?” The discussions that followed led to building a new reading program intended to bring struggling students to grade level and enrich the skills of those already on grade level. Gone was the large amount of time spent on sustained silent reading that had no purpose other than having students read material of their choosing with no direct instruction. In its place was a tiered program of interventions designed to diagnose and eliminate reading difficulties. Complementing this approach was a schoolwide focus on literacy development across content areas. Every student would have a specific plan to develop and enhance his or her skills. The vision was to have all students on or above grade level by the end of eighth grade. ...

Inspiring Students to Do Their Best

Character Education Partnership, for Fox C-6 School District, Missouri

Story posted June 25, 2010. Results updated July 22, 2014

Results:
• The district's graduation rate consistently outpaces the state's: 88.7% compared to 77.6% in 2011, 92.2% to 83.7% in 2012 and 90.6% to 85.7% in 2013
In 2013, students in the district, in all grades tested, outpaced the state in math and ELA, with ELA students in grades 3 through 8 exceeding an average of 95% proficiency

"I’m just a hometown gal, born and bred in Arnold, Missouri.” The effervescent superintendent of schools for the Fox C-6 district, Dr. Dianne Brown, who has served in this district for her entire career in education, cannot hide her love of her hometown. She continues, “Arnold is really a special place. We don’t just have a district of character here; we have a whole community of character. We even have a parade for character.”

Brown, known as a passionate crusader for character, initiated a character program in 1999, the first year she served as an elementary school principal. But Brown’s passion for character education has a deeper, personal connection that dates back to her first year of teaching. Tim, one of her students, a transfer from the inner city, was shot as he alighted from the school bus. Tim’s brother, unaware that the gun he was pointing in jest was loaded, had killed him. “They never taught me how to handle this at college,” thought the young teacher as she prepared to ...

The Road from Good to Great

Jennifer Pyron, Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of Boaz Middle School, Alabama

Story posted November 6, 2008. Results updated July 22, 2014.

BoazGroupWorkWEB.jpgResults:

  • In 2013, 94% of 6th graders, 96% of 7th graders and 90% of 8th graders scored proficient or above on state standardized tests in reading (exceeding both district and state averages)
  • In 2013, 81% of 6th graders, 84% of 7th graders and 87% of 8th graders scored proficient or above on state standardized tests in math (meeting or exceeding both district and state averages).

The halls of Boaz Middle School are buzzing with energy. Students walk past bulletin boards displaying their work, as a visitor stops to browse the examples of graphic organizers and short essays. Teachers stand in the open classroom doorways, discussing students, strategies and the day's successes. Students stop to ask teachers for extra help with presentations and projects. Teachers stop students as they pass by just to ask how things are going. ...

The World Runs Through Oberlin

NASSP Breakthrough Schools on Behalf of Oberlin High School, Ohio

Story posted July 22, 2014

Results:

  • Oberlin High has been rated as Excellent by the state four times in the last six years
  • Each year since 2011, every Oberlin High senior has applied and been accepted to a postsecondary institution
  • In 2005–06, seven students were enrolled in the school's one AP course; in spring of 2014, students registered for 190 AP exams
  • In 2011, ACT Midwest named Oberlin High as a recipient of the Red Quill Award for increasing in both the number of students taking the ACT and the school’s composite score

Tucked into an appealing residential community, lined with majestic trees and well-kept homes, Oberlin (OH) High School serves the educational needs of approximately 400 students in this small city of 8,000. Located just 35 miles from downtown Cleveland, Oberlin is the home of the storied Oberlin College, one of the nation’s leading private liberal arts institutions, known throughout the country as the home of the oldest and one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the nation. Founded in 1833, this college is the longest continuously operating coeducation university in the United States. Currently, it has grown to include a 440-acre campus and offers more than 50 majors, adding nearly 3,000 college students and staff members to the city’s population during the school year. Oberlin College students have a reputation for being notably progressive, as demonstrated by their political activism and unshakable support of diversity, social equity and justice, and environmental sustainability. Coupling these ideals with the outstanding academic resources it offers to the community, the influence of Oberlin College on the city and school system cannot be overestimated. ...

Where Everybody Belongs

NASSP Breakthrough Schools on Behalf of Marshall Fundamental Secondary School, California

Story posted June 24, 2014

Results:

  • A 2012 cohort graduation rate of nearly 98%
  • 949 AP tests taken by 416 students in 2013, up from 578 AP tests taken by 261 students in 2010
  • 90% of Marshall students pass the California High School Exit Exam in English language arts on their first attempt, and 87% do so in math

There is a special energy at Marshall Fundamental Secondary School. Students exhibit a cheerful spirit and are clearly glad to be there; teachers are welcoming and energetic. As a result, demand to attend Marshall has grown in recent years and typically exceeds the number of spaces available with a waiting list that approaches 1,000 students. Although this grades 6–12 school, originally built in 1925, has been enhanced and the campus expanded over the years, there is no additional space to house an increase in enrollment beyond the current capacity of 1,950. The few available spaces are awarded through a districtwide open enrollment and random lottery process that ensures fairness. Consequently, Marshall’s students come from every corner of the Pasadena (CA) Unified School District, ensuring a widely diverse student body with one common characteristic ...

Gulf Shores Elementary: Empowering Teachers and Students Through Project Learning

By John Norton on behalf of Gulf Shores Elementary, Alabama

Story posted June 24, 2014

Results:

  • 99% of fourth grade students reading proficiently
  • Progress and development in K-1 writing

How does the principal of a large PK-6 elementary school – a former reading coach well-versed in ARI fidelity – learn to lead a schoolwide transformation to project-based learning?

With the help of some pushy experts, she says. Experts who happen to be teachers in her own school.

Julia Gordon "Julie" Pierce came to Gulf Shores Elementary School as principal in 2008, after 15 years as a teacher and reading coach and a three-year apprenticeship as an assistant principal. An Alabama native, Pierce had a relatively brief first career as an accountant ("my dad urged me to go into business instead of teaching"), then earned her masters degree from UAB and taught in elementary and middle grades for 13 years, some spent in Florida.
 
Most of the Alabama part of Julie Pierce's career has been spent in Baldwin County, where she was trained by the Alabama Reading Initiative in 2002 and coached at Summerdale School as it added 6th, 7th and 8th grades in just three years time. "I learned a lot about the progression of readers as they move up through the middle grades," she remembers. ...

Gulf Shores Elementary (Part II): Some Leadership Lessons Learned

By John Norton on behalf of Gulf Shores Elementary School, Alabama

Story posted June 24, 2014 

Results:

  • 70% of instruction in the intermediate and upper grades is now project-based
  • Developed network of teacher leaders and created a leadership team

In Part 1 of the story about the transformation at Gulf Shores Elementary into a project-based learning school, principal Julie Pierce recalled her own early resistance, based on concerns about maintaining a strong reading program, and how teacher leaders in her school convinced her both things were possible. In Part 2, Pierce reflects on the journey so far and offers some insights gained from the experience.
 
This spring, when a group of educators visited Baldwin County's Gulf Shores Elementary for an "instructional round" organized by the Alabama Best Practices Center, they compared the PK-6 school's one-page instructional target document with what they saw during their observations.
 
The target laid out the GSES educators' vision of "what we want to be doing and what we want the kids to be doing" in two years, says principal Julie Pierce.
 
The visitors, all participants in ABPC's school and district networks,  told the GSES leadership team that "you are living and breathing your one-page target. You are totally on track. You understand where you are headed and you are of a common mind about it."
 
ABPC director Cathy Gassenheimer, who participated in the instructional round, agrees. "The school is amazing. In my opinion, it is an exemplar of a technology-infused school where students are using the tools most of the time to do project learning in very powerful ways ...

Closing a Reading Gap in 17 Days

Brenda Alvarez on behalf of Quil Ceda and Tulalip Elementary Schools, Washington

Story posted June 24, 2014

Results:

  • The reading gap closed for almost every student in just 17 days
  • Readers recognized their own growth and increasing proficiency

Thirty-five miles north of Seattle sits the merged campus of Quil Ceda and Tulalip Elementary schools. The schools are on the Tulalip Indian Reservation and, together, serve just over 500 students, of which 63 percent are American Indian and a majority receives free or reduced-price lunch.

When about 50 percent of the schools’ second graders were losing ground on reading fluency, a decision was made to “flood” second graders with support. The results were a torrent of good news—the gap closed for almost every student in just 17 days.

Co-administrators of these schools, Anthony Craig and Kristin DeWitte, have a vision for their school community.

“We want to catch [achievement] gaps before they begin,” says DeWitte. “Our expectation is that each student makes a year or more growth each year.” ...

Mac Mentors: Combining Apprenticeships and a Technology Initiative

NSBA Magna Awards on Behalf of Maplewood Richmond Heights School District, Missouri

Story posted May 27, 2014

Results:

  • For three out of the past four years, the district has achieved the top score in the state's Annual Performance Report and received the Distinction in Performance Award
  • Multiple students have become "Apple Certified," and some have been hired to work in the school district 

Maplewood Richmond Heights launched a one-to-one Mac laptop program for the middle school in 2005 and for the high school a year later. The Mac Mentors/Help Desk Technology program was created out of the need for an on-site help desk. The help desk is partially staffed by high school students, who are known as Mac Mentors. These students identify and solve everyday technology problems that arise. Under the supervision of a full-time staff technician and a teacher, the Mac Mentors assist their peers and faculty. These volunteer positions are highly sought-after by the students, who are looking for real-world job and career opportunities. Mac Mentors get in-depth training by district IT staff in order to be able to fulfill their duties ...