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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.

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. ...

Helping Students Demonstrate Their Math Knowledge

WestEd, on behalf of Fenway High School, Massachusetts

Story posted June, 2008.  Results updated January 28, 2014.

Fenway's MCAS performance continued its uphill trend in 2013, with 95% of students scoring proficient or above on ELA, up from 91% in 2012.
In 2013, for math, 84% of students scored proficient or above, up from 82% in 2012.
The school had a 92% graduation rate in 2013, up from 83% in 2007.

Fenway High has a unique history.  It was founded in 1983 as a program for students in at-risk situations who were failing in the more traditional high schools.  Fenway became a pilot school in 1995 and is now open to all students, serving a diverse population that is 44% African-American, 36% Hispanic, and 15% Caucasian, with 46% receiving free or reduced lunch.

Fenway has an innovative approach to student learning, most notably in math, and has seen significant improvement in test scores over the past few years. Fenway's principal and math chair both agree that their continuous improvement in mathematics is supported by three key elements:

  • Developing students' deep understanding of math
  • Using formative assessments to gauge student performance
  • Providing resources that both enhance and support students' math knowledge

Developing students' deep understanding of math
Because the ability to demonstrate or explain math knowledge is at the core of Fenway's math program, opportunities to communicate math concepts are critical. While performance on quizzes and exams is vitally important, a student's ability to communicate mathe­matical understanding to others is ...

Strategic Staffing Helps a Title I School Succeed

Jennifer Pyron, Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of Indian Springs Elementary, Alabama

Story posted November 19, 2009. Results updated January 28, 2014.


  • Although Indian Springs serves a significantly higher percentage of low-income students than the state, they met or exceeded the state average on standardized tests in most grades and subjects and came within two percentage points in all others.
  • In 2013, grade 4 outperformed the state by 4 points in reading and 14 points in math.
  • Grade 3 outperformed the state in math by almost 10 points in 2013.

Indian Springs Elementary is located along one of the many rural highways that crisscross northern Mobile County, in territory marked by signs of poverty and under-development. There’s no interesting history behind the name of the unincorporated community the school serves—Eight Mile is just the distance down U.S. 45 to the city.

The exterior of Indian Springs shows the wear and tear of a building that has housed students for many decades. The school comes alive only after you cross the threshold, where you find a physical space that is clearly well-loved by the faculty, staff and students.

Just inside the front doors, a small sitting area decorated with potted plants and flowers welcomes visitors. The walls are bright and the floors shine. Bulletin boards and student work cover every inch of the hallways. Teachers decorate the entrances to their classrooms with personal touches, like the kindergarten teacher whose door resembles a front porch with columns, shutters and an awning.

The school serves 451 students in grades pre K-5. It has a 50-50 ratio of white and African American students—87% of whom meet federal poverty guidelines. About 14 percent are classified as having special needs. The demographics offer few clues about the school’s academic performance. But in fact ...

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 ...

An Innovative and Collaborative Learning Community

Partnership for 21st Century Skills in collaboration with Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, IL

Story posted December 17, 2013

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


  • The school outperforms the district and state in proficiency rates for all grades and in all subjects tested.
  • In 2013, 99% of 4th graders were proficient or advanced in science, and 92% of 5th graders were proficient or advanced in math.

The teachers and leadership of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School have built a collaborative and innovative learning community through project-based and nontraditional instructional strategies.

About Benjamin Franklin Elementary School

Benjamin Franklin Elementary School exemplifies the Glen Ellyn, Illinois (District 41) district and community’s commitment to preparing students for a rapidly changing world through a 21st century skills framework. Nearly six hundred students attend Franklin Elementary, which is in the western suburbs of Chicago. ...

Stuart Elementary Handles Children, Community with Care

U.S. Department of Education's Achiever, on behalf of J.E.B. Stuart Elementary, Virginia

Story posted January 29, 2009. Results updated December 17, 2013


  • In 2012, J.E.B Stuart outperformed the state in almost all subjects tested across all grades, while 82% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch compared to 33% for the state.
  •  79% of 3rd graders tested proficient or above state standards in math compared to 64% for the state, and 98% of 3rd graders tested proficient or advanced in science compared to 90% in the state.

"Today, class, we're going to cover SOL 3.1, scientific investigations," says Frenishee Smith, a third-grade teacher at J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Richmond, Va., referring to Virginia's Standards of Learning. "What do you have on your body that helps you make observations?"

"Your brain," answers one student.

"Exactly, because your brain tells everything what to do. That's our computer. What else?"

After each student called upon names the five different senses, Smith pulls out from her desk drawer an empty food can covered with a black sock and little colored pom-poms. "Before we go on, I want to introduce you to my field can," she says, which is met with ...

The Personal Approach

Jacqueline Raphael, on behalf of Chelan High School, Washington

Story posted July 24, 2009. Story Updated December 17, 2013


  • In 2013, 88.2% of 10th graders met or exceeded state standards in writing, compared with 85% for the state as a whole, despite serving a high-needs population where 58% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch (compared to 40% statewide)
  • 81.5% of 10th graders met or exceeded state standards in reading, close to the state average
  • Students at Chelan had a 90.1% pass rate for the End of Course (EOC) exam for Math Year 2 and a 66% pass rate for the EOC for Math Year 1, compared to 76.5% and 53%, respectively, for the state


It’s the start of the school year. A senior student and his mother are meeting with Chelan High School principal Barry Depaoli in his office. The student is not on track to graduate.

“Francisco, let me tell you my dream,” the mother says to her son. “My dream is to see you in your cap and gown on the stage.”

Depaoli smiles at the student. “Your mother loves you more than anybody else in the world. Now you know her dream. If that doesn’t motivate you, something’s wrong.” The student nods, and Depaoli goes to work. He arranges for additional tutoring and instructional support from Francisco’s teachers. He suggests to classified staff that ...

Coming Together for Student Success

Tim Walker of NEA Today on Behalf of Lanier High School, TX

Story posted November 25, 2013


  • Over the past 6 years, the school’s graduation rate has soared from 56% to 90%, with 95% of the student population qualifying for free-and-reduced lunch
  • Between 2008-2013, state assessment scores at the exit level went from 74-89%
    ELA, 63-85% in Math, 65-90% in Science and from 89-98% in Social Studies
  • According to the new Texas accountability system that measures value added in comparison to like schools, Lanier achieved #2 of 40 schools in their group

Next fall, Mauricio Ramos will enter the University of Texas at Arlington to major in computer science. “My career goal is to become a computer programmer, definitely,” he says. When he was in his early teens, however, that didn’t seem imaginable to Mauricio or to his teachers. Like a lot of kids growing up in his East Austin neighborhood, Mauricio was making all the wrong choices. “Bad influences were sending me down the wrong path. I needed something to change. Luckily for me, I went to Lanier.”

Mauricio doesn’t mince words when describing Lanier High School. “It was a life-changer,” he says. “Everyone here helps every student, to make sure we are doing well in school, to help you enjoy learning, and to make sure you graduate. It is a ...

Seattle Students Go Global -- And Soar

Karen Kodama, John Stanford International School, Washington

Story posted December, 2007. Results updated November 25, 2013

• In 2012, proficiency rates for students at John Stanford International were significantly higher than the state averages across all grades and subjects.

• In 2013, student proficiency rates in reading were above 90% in all grades.


"Globalization" is a word everyone uses, but few know how to put into practice. Eight years ago, however, Seattle parents and businesses were asked, in separate surveys, what they thought would make for a successful "international" school - one that immerses students in world languages and cultures as they acquire the skills needed to thrive worldwide.

The answers were put into practice at the K-5 John Stanford International School (JSIS), named for a Seattle superintendent who, before his death from leukemia, envisioned creating high-achieving global-savvy schools. Founded in 2000, JSIS is just that, earning high test scores and prestigious awards, and serving as a model for the district. So how does it do all these things? ...

Once Racially Troubled, a District Shrinks the Achievement Gap

Jackie Mader on behalf of Ossining High School, NY

Story posted November 26, 2013


  • The school has made significant progress since the mid-2000s, nearly doubling the percentage of minority students who graduate and greatly narrowing the test score gap between student groups.
  • In 2012, 75 percent of black students graduated, up from 62 percent just four years ago.
  • Between 2005 and 2013, the percentage of black students who graduated and went on to a two- or four-year college increased from 67 percent to 74 percent.
  • The proficiency gap between white and Hispanic students was cut in half between the 2004 and 2011 school years.

On a spring morning at Ossining High School in suburban New York, a group of students gathered in a small classroom at the end of the school’s science hallway. It was a day traditionally known to the senior class as “skip day,” when most of the school’s 12th-graders play hooky and head to the beach to celebrate their impending graduation. ...