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.

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.” ...

Raising Their Standards

NASSP Breakthrough Schools, on behalf of Troy Howard Middle School, Maine

Story posted January 27, 2015.


  • Troy Howard students outperformed their peers statewide in reading, despite the school serving a larger proportion of low-income students

  • Growth in reading for Troy Howard students as a whole - and for the lowest performing quartile of students in particular - also surpassed state average

It’s just a short but beautiful drive from the picturesque city harbor on the bay in Belfast, ME, to 60 spectacular acres dotted with greenhouses, cold frames, a community garden, and beautifully designed and maintained flower beds. This is the inviting home of Troy Howard Middle School, which houses 400 energetic sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from small towns scattered around Waldo County, 730 square miles of land located in the eastern coastal region of Maine. The landscape and gardens are tied to the Ecology Academy, one of three learning academies established during Troy Howard’s turnaround from one of the poorest-performing schools in the state to a role model for other middle schools. ...

The El Dorado Promise

Brett Pawlowski, K-12 Partnership Report for El Dorado Public Schools, Arkansas

Story posted August 8, 2011. Results updated December 16, 2014.


  • Ninety percent of 2013 Promise-eligible class enrolled in college.
  • Ninety-one percent of Promise college freshmen have completed at least one year of college.
  • Sixty-two percent of the Promise recipients have completed at least two years of college.

On January 22, 2007, residents of El Dorado, Arkansas learned that a unique initiative called The El Dorado Promise would allow graduates of El Dorado Public Schools the opportunity to earn college degrees tuition-free as a result of a $50 million commitment by Murphy Oil Corporation to El Dorado’s greatest resource – its children. ...

Opening the Door for a New Generation of Students

Coalition for Community Schools, on behalf of Community Links High School, Illinois

Story posted December 16, 2009, updated December 16, 2014.

• Over 90% graduation rate in most recently available data.

Built in 1898, John Spry School has served kindergarten through eighth-grade children from southwest Chicago’s Little Village community, where the majority of the population is bilingual, for many years. But historically many of Spry’s students would graduate in the 8th grade, get a job to help support their families, and never complete high school.

In 2003, former principal of Spry, Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, approached the District CEO about adding a high school to Spry, creating a comprehensive community school from preschool through secondary school. After getting the go-ahead, Azcoitia met with community members, parents, the local school council, teachers, and students to discuss the design of a shared community building with an innovative, “no failure” high school. Today, Spry’s Community Links High School, which serves a student population that is 100% Hispanic and over 93% free or reduced price lunch, is opening new doors for the area’s children.

Committing to Post-Secondary Success
As a public, neighborhood school, Spry’s Community Links High School (CLHS) provides a unique opportunity for students and families from the community who are committed to success. Spry has designed a ...

A "Beacon of Light": Baldwin Academy

Bonnie Wilson, Baldwin Academy, California

Story posted December, 2007. Results updated December 16, 2014.


  • Baldwin.jpgSchool outperforms the state in all subjects across almost all grade levels, despite serving a higher percentage of low-income students.
  • School rating based on state test scores rose from 493 in 1999 to 830 in 2013 (the statewide goal is 800).

Baldwin Academy Principal Bonnie Wilson refers to her school as a "beacon of light" for the surrounding community in the San Gabriel Valley of California. Today, Baldwin's light is shining brighter than ever thanks to a high level of support for staff, plus extensive collaboration among teachers at all levels.

"We believe that if kids aren't where we want them to be or aren't making the kind of progress we'd like, it's because we haven't figured out as professionals how to get them there," Wilson said in an interview with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). ...

Pride is the First Step

NASSP's Principal Leadership, on behalf of Pocomoke Middle School, Maryland

Story posted July, 2008. Results updated November 18, 2014.


  • In 2013, the school outperformed state averages in all tested subjects and grades.
  • In 2013, 97 percent of 4 grade math students scored proficient, compared to 81 percent for the state.

When visitors step inside Pocomoke Middle School, they are immediately surrounded by a profound sense of pride and high expectations. Students are actively engaged in instruction, the classroom walls are covered with student work, and the halls are lined with pictures of students demonstrating success. ...