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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.

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


  • 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 ...

Every Student an Individual

NASSP's Breakthrough Schools on Behalf of Sleepy Hollow High School, New York

Story posted May 27, 2014


  • An 86% cohort and 94% senior graduation rate, as well as a 93% college-going rate
  • Each year since 2009, the number of students passing the English and Algebra Regents exams has increased
  • The College Board has recognized the school for Exceptional Achievement for AP participation and achievement

Both legend and history, dating back to when the area was settled in the early 1600s, surround Sleepy Hollow (NY) High School. Sleepy Hollow and its sister village, Tarrytown, bring to mind an idyllic vision of American life. Located on the banks of the Hudson River 20 miles north of Manhattan, the demographic and economic changes these villages have experienced over the last 30 years mirror the changes seen across the United States. This 900-student comprehensive high school serves to unite the two villages.

The school is racially, ethnically and economically diverse. Seventeen percent of the students are English language learners, and 17% of the students receive special education services. This diversity is celebrated and promoted for the richness that it brings to the community. Parents value their children’s experiences at the school because they feel that it is a “snapshot of the real world.”

The warmth and positive energy generated from so many different types of students working and learning together is genuine. Students know that they are not numbers; rather, they are individuals with very different needs that are attended to. Students feel that no group gets preferential treatment and speak passionately about how all the adults at the school are devoted to their academic and personal success. According to the students, this begins with the principal and assistant principal knowing each of them by name and continues with ...

Soaring with the SkyHawks

Character Education Partnership, on behalf of Skyview Elementary, Georgia

Story posted January 22, 2009. Story updated April 22, 2014.


  •  In 2013, students in grade 5 met or exceeded average state proficiency rates in all subjects.
  • In 2013, students in grade 4 met or exceeded average state proficiency rates in all subjects but one.

Although it opened only six years ago, Skyview Elementary School in scenic Lizella, Georgia, has already gained a reputation as an educational star. As a member of the National Basic Schools Network, which focuses on the four building blocks of community, curriculum, climate, and character, Skyview has a sound framework. But it is the passion, dedication, and wonderful vision of its dedicated former and present staff that has made this Title I school, where 50% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, soar to great heights in academics and character. ...

Collaborative Effort Empowers Teachers, Raises Test Scores in South Lane

Krista Parent, South Lane School District, Oregon

Story posted December, 2007. Results updated April 22, 2014

• In 2013, students in grade 11 exceeded state proficiency rates in math, science and reading.

  Ten years ago, Cottage Grove High School, named for the Oregon lumber town in which it's located, was little more than a pit stop for many teenages who'd eventually drop out and work in the mills.  Today, most of those mills are shuttered, and the 900-student school--brimming with AP and professional-technical courses and equipped with robotics, plastics and computer labs--graduates more than 95 percent of its students. ...

A Global Generation

Partnership for 21st Century Skills in collaboration with Muscatine Community School District, Iowa

Story posted April 22, 2014

This story is part of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills' 21st Century Learning Exemplar Program.


  • In 2012, the district had a graduation rate of 85%, up 15% from 2008

As of 2008, Muscatine Community School District’s leaders faced two challenges: only 70% of students were graduating and students’ test scores, and achievements in early grades did not seem to predict or lead to success in secondary school.

Educators held a series of strategic conversations, reached out to successful schools in other regions and began to introduce competency-based education, a new instructional framework and one to one computing to address these challenges. Today, the district has a greatly improved graduation rate of 85%. ...

From Fire Trucks to the Federal Court: An Academic Edge for Low-Income Students

Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of George Hall Elementary, Alabama

Story posted October 30, 2008.  Results updated March 25, 2014.

• In 2013, 100% of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders scored proficient or above in math
• In 2013, over 95% of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders scored proficient or above in reading

"There's not a minute to be lost." That's the mantra in many high-needs schools today, where the pressures of high-stakes accountability have reduced the time spent on "untested" subjects and activities like art, music, drama and physical education. And perhaps no brand of school fun has taken the drubbing given to the venerable Field Trip in recent years. Trips away from school often take most or all of the day, and a day lost from intensive instruction (and test preparation) is no small matter to the principals of high-needs schools, where children often have a lot of catching up to do. ...

iGRAD: An Individualized Graduation and Diploma Program

Magna Awards on Behalf of Kent School District, Washington

Story posted March 24, 2014


  • Enrollment has nearly doubled since the program started in 2002 with 225 students
  • So far, 92 students have earned credentials with 18 diplomas, 73 GEDs, and one technical certificate.

Kent Superintendent Edward Lee Vargas stopped at a gas station recently, where a young man told him he used to attend one of the district high schools, but he’d dropped out. Vargas asked him: Why? The school was too big, the young man answered. “There were too many distractions. Things moved too slowly. I stopped coming, and no one ever called me.”

However, he’d heard from a friend about iGrad, Kent’s program to bring dropouts back to school. There, he said, “I can work at my own pace.”

That, says Vargas, is “a powerful testimonial on why we need in education to adapt our services to our students.”

The Individualized Graduation and Diploma Program (iGrad) is a partnership between Kent and nearby Green River Community College, which brings 16- to 21-year-olds back to school and helps them earn high school diplomas, GEDs, college credits, or professional certification. ...

A Partnership Focused on Leadership

By Cathy W. Gassenheimer of the Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of Tarrant City Schools, Alabama

Story posted August 11, 2011. Results updated February 25, 2014.


  • Students continue to perform well in both reading and math, with 91% at or above proficient in reading and 92% at or above proficient in math on the 2013 Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT), despite serving a student population with 96% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch

Sandwiched between interstates, industrial plants and a 2.3-mile Birmingham International runway sits the small urban community of Tarrant, Alabama. Tarrant City serves about 1300 students in four schools: elementary (K-3), intermediate (4-6), middle (7-9) and high (10-12). Many of Tarrant’s children grow up in poverty, live in substandard Section 8 housing, and breathe air tainted by industrial pollution. The district has one of the highest eligibility rates for free or reduced-price lunch in the Birmingham metro area.

The city has an aging population with little space to develop new middle-class homes. Over the past decade and a half, Tarrant has experienced a dramatic demographic shift as traditional blue-collar and industrial employment began to disappear and ...

Designing an Exemplar: University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Alexander School

Penn Alexander School, Pennsylvania

Story posted March, 2008. Story Updated February 25, 2014.


  • Students at Penn Alexander outperformed the state in all subjects across all grades in 2012.
  • Students also outperformed the district and state in all grades in 2013.

When the University of Pennsylvania decided to revitalize their surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhood of University City in the late 1990s, they knew they had to start with an outstanding neighborhood school. Together with the Philadelphia school district and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Penn designed and created the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School (otherwise known as Penn Alexander). The initiative has been a resounding success: Penn Alexander has showed some of the highest test scores in the city (in 2007, at least 80% of its students scored proficient or higher in state reading and math tests). What's more, the school has become a bridge connecting the neighborhood community with the university's vast resources.

Opened in 2001 with grades K-2 and 5-6, Penn Alexander has now expanded to serve over 500 pre-kindergarten through eighth graders. Students must live in the local catchment zone ...

Transforming a School Step by Step

Melissa Glee-Woodard, Lewisdale Elementary School, Maryland

Story posted April 7, 2010. Results updated January 28, 2014.

Lewisdale outperforms average state proficiency rates in all grades and subjects except one, with a significantly higher population of low-income students.
In 2013, 80% of 5th grade students scored proficient or above in science, up from 49% in 2012, and outperforming the state by 13 points.

When Melissa Glee-Woodard became principal of Maryland’s Lewisdale Elementary School four years ago, it was struggling. The school was in the dreaded “school improvement” process because of the performance of multiple subgroups of students, and it needed change.

Change is what it got. But not the dramatic “fire-all-teachers” change that has been making the papers. Rather, Glee-Woodard inspired teachers, parents and students with a new vision. The staff began focusing on student data in a meaningful way. Targeted professional development addressed areas of weakness in the instructional program. And new summer programs ensured that students kept their academic success going even when school was not technically in session.

As a result, Lewisdale has made AYP every year Glee-Woodard has been principal. The National Association of Elementary School Principals recently honored her for her transformational leadership.

She joined us for a conversation about the school and its journey.

Public School Insights: How would you describe Lewisdale?

Glee-Woodard: Lewisdale Elementary School is located in an urban setting in Prince George's County, Maryland. We are in the backyard of the University of Maryland, College Park. It is a working-class neighborhood. 80% of our students are ...