A Texas high school offers students support and an array of rigorous learning opportunities; student achievement scores show their efforts are paying off.
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.
Story posted July 23, 2013
- 11% increase in California Standardized Test scores across all grades between 2010-12
- Acadmic Performance Index rose from 674 to 725 between 2010–12
- 80 core parent volunteers and committee members, up from five in 2004
- 90% attendance at parent-teacher conferences, up from 50% in 2005
When Principal Richard Zapien and Community School Coordinator Stefanie Eldred first arrived at Hillcrest Elementary almost a decade ago, she was the Parent Liaison, and he was the Instructional Reform Facilitator. They encountered animosity between teachers and students, fights breaking out on the playground, and no community partners willing to get involved in such a contentious environment.
“Services can’t be delivered effectively when there is no stability,” says Eldred. So she and the then-principal made improving school climate their top priority—first by building stronger relationships with families in this diverse, southeast San Francisco neighborhood. Other key focal areas were providing professional development for teachers and interventions and support services for students. They knew these changes would translate into better behavior and engagement in the classroom. Eldred explains, “As much as this was about the kids, the teachers were the primary focus of our work when we started. We wanted to help teachers get what they needed to feel supported and to be able to focus on quality and innovative instruction. Without the buy-in of classroom teachers, a community school can only go so far.”
Today, Hillcrest’s climate is far more stable, inviting, and inclusive than it was 10 years ago. Rather than fighting on a regular basis, students are now better equipped to solve their own problems. Teachers lead daily community-building activities in ...
Story posted June 25, 2013
- 45 point gain in school API in the past year, with a 3-year gain of 71 points
- 500% increase in parent volunteerism in the past 7 years
- 98% of families now have health insurance, thanks to bi-annual health-coverage drives
When the Twin Rivers Unified School District took steps to close Harmon Johnson Elementary School three years ago because it was located next to a natural gas storage facility, parents petitioned the school board to keep their students together instead of dispersing them to other schools in the district.
Even though the school was involved in some community school work as part of a state-funded Healthy Start grant, it was this event “that really became the lightning rod that brought the parents together,” says David Nevarez, the principal of Johnson Elementary.
Ultimately, district officials listened to the parents and spent $1.4 million to renovate a nearby campus for the new site. Thus Harmon Jonson 2.0 was born. Because the new site was next to the existing Noralto Elementary School, the two principals along with district staff decided Noralto would serve pre-K-2nd grade and Johnson would have 3rd-6th grade. With a junior high school also nearby, Mr. Nevarez says, “We have lots to build a community around.” Parents even helped teachers pack up and ...
Story posted June 25, 2013
- 90% of students are proficient or advanced in math, and 80% are in reading, up from 39% and 55%, respectively, in 2003
- Recently, the district was identified by the state as being the 11th most-overachieving district in the state
Set on a hill above the small town of Scottdale, PA, Southmoreland Middle School serves about 450 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in a beautiful facility designed to house active young adolescents. A video clip on the school’s website describes the school as a place to learn and lead, where students have time to grow, and a dynamic community that is devoted to learning, achievement, and skill development. Southmoreland is that and so much more.
A Dismal History
In 2003, Southmoreland was a seventh- and eighth-grade junior high school in the warning category under NCLB for failing to make adequate yearly progress. Scores on state tests were grim—only 39% of the students were proficient or advanced in math and 55% in reading. Two years later, the combined improvement in reading and math scores resulted in the school being ranked 13th in the state; today 90% of the students are proficient or advanced in math and 80% in reading. The staff credits that growth to the transformation of the school culture from one of teacher isolation to one where collaboration permeates all aspects of ...
Story posted May 28, 2013
- In 2011, 84% of students met or exceeded state reading standards, up from 57% in 2006
- In 2012, 90% of students met or exceeded state standards in math, up from 69% in 2006
- More than 40% of students are English language learners, with 97% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches
Throughout the last five years, Talman Elementary School (Chicago, IL) has grown to foster a data-responsive culture. The “Talman Way,” as it is affectionately referred to, includes continuously improving our students, our methods, and ourselves through analyzing data and addressing what is working and what needs work.
As this work continues, we attempt to integrate best practices from everywhere, including other top-performing schools, to present quality instruction to our students. This process has included many changes to the programs at Talman, including staffing. Initially, 0% of our 3rd-grade students were meeting or exceeding state standards.
This reflected on all of our primary teachers, so we replaced two teachers to ensure that we were holding our students accountable to high expectations from the moment they entered Talman’s doors. Another change has been the initial ...
Story posted May 28, 2013
- The graduation rate has consistently and steadily climbed from approximately 50% in 2004 to nearly 75% in 2011, with equally impressive progress being made in most subgroups
- School achievements include being named one of the nation's leading high schools in the Washington Post's 2012 High School Challenge, an AP honor school by the Georgia Department of Education, one of the nation's top public high schools by Newsweek, and a silver medalist by U.S. News and World Report
- Accomplishments come despite the fact that nearly 75% of students receive subsidized meals assistance
There is excitement in the air at Clarke Central High School in anticipation of a $28 million renovation planned on its 27-acre, urban campus located just minutes from the University of Georgia in Athens. A 2006 renovation brought a modern, three-story classroom and lab addition to the school; other more recent improvements include a new gymnasium, theater, and food court. But this extensive construction, which aims to fulfill a board of education mandate to provide equity among the Clarke County school facilities, will involve a total renovation of the original structures, including the main building, which opened more than 60 years ago as part of the old Athens High School.
As much as the students, the staff members, and the community are looking forward to the physical changes at Clarke Central, there is already plenty of enthusiasm at this diverse grades 9–12 high school as the result of a new philosophy and vision brought to the school by Principal Robbie P. Hooker. Following his 2008 appointment, Hooker spent the first year observing, assessing, and sharing data and information with the staff regarding the major issues at the school, such as low-performing students overrepresented in subgroups, graduation and dropout rates in need of improvement, and program requirements for a high percentage of students with disabilities—all exacerbated by high poverty: nearly 75% of the students receive subsidized meals ...
Story posted April 23, 2013. (We previously covered this initiative in August 2012, but this narrative adds a different, and very valuable, perspective.)
- The district graduation rate has steadily increased from 78.5 percent in 2006 to 95.2 percent in 2012.
- All high schools in the district exceeded their individual target graduation rates.
- More than 100 businesses, civic, government and faith-based organizations have signed up to be a part of the 100% Graduation Project.
There’s a real conversation-starter hanging on a wall outside the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System’s (CMCSS) board room. It’s a wall-sized poster of football players representing each of this Middle Tennessee district’s seven high schools. They are standing on the 50-yard line, in uniform, looking tough and determined, with game faces on. Below them is the text: “95.2% is not enough.”
The poster stops many visitors in their tracks. When they realize the meaning behind the words — that the number reflects CMCSS’s current graduation rate, and the district’s goal is 100 percent — they typically question if district leaders are serious. We are!
“One hundred percent graduation,” said Superintendent Dr. B.J. Worthington, “is our goal, and our community has made the commitment. We’ll not strive for anything less.” After all, a football field is 100 yards long, and CMCSS is not content to stop 4.8 yards short ...
Story posted April 23, 2013
- Critical thinking statements included in student lab reports increased by 45 percent; 80 percent of students writing such statements provided further explanation/evidence in their writing.
- Teachers report opportunities for greater collaboration and that they can more effectively facilitate formative assessment, leading to more differentiated instruction.
- Education support personnel (afterschool tutors) report that they have better access to information on student performance and can therefore more effectively focus their instructional support specific student needs.
When Amanda Zullo began teaching a multi-grade high school chemistry class, she knew she needed to change the way her class worked to meet the needs of a wider range of students. With no prerequisites, the Regents chemistry course placed in the same classroom “the valedictorian and the kids who are hoping to meet the graduation requirements,” she says. “It challenged me to try different ways of teaching to reach the broadest group of students possible.”
Zullo shifted to an inquiry-based model of classroom instruction, one in which students work together in groups to solve open-ended problems. To ensure students were on task, she walked from group to group to check for understanding. But she knew that spot checks “based on gut” weren’t enough to ensure that all students were learning.
In searching for a solution, Zullo discovered a counterintuitive corollary about technology and teaching: finding a tool to quickly gauge student understanding paved the way for ...
Story posted March 26, 2009. Results updated April 23, 2013
• In 2012, the school outperformed the state in reading at every grade level, despite serving a significantly higher proportion of free/reduced-price lunch students [they performed nearly as well, or as well, in math at every grade level]
Everyone loves a Cinderella story. When Newport Mill Middle School opened its doors in 2002, folks wondered how students would fare. The school is located in the section of Montgomery County, Maryland, that is most affected by poverty, mobility, and language diversity. The verdict is in: One of the highest-performing middle schools in the county, Newport Mill has demonstrated the remarkable power of the Spirit of Excellence.
Tiger Pride: Fueling the Character Education Initiative
An important aspect of the school’s success is its emphasis on ...
Story posted March 26, 2013
- In 2012 the district made AYP for the first time
- During the first four months of the 2012-2013 school year, multiple grades in the elementary and middle schools have seen 7 months to 19 months growth in student learning
Fremont County School District #38 is located on the Wind River Indian Reservation. 98% of 440 students are members of the Arapaho Tribe.
For many years, the students of Fremont County School District #38 were far behind in their reading, writing, science, and math skills and abilities. Students often transferred from one grade to the next, several grade levels behind where data-driven norms suggested that they be. In addition, frequent changes in district leadership meant no sustained systematic approach to addressing achievement by school leaders. Teachers were left to do what they could on their own and students suffered from years of systems' breakdowns. One of the many negative results of the disorganization plaguing the district was that Fremont #38 was continually unable to meet the Annual Yearly Progress goals set by the state under the No Child Left Behind legislation. The lack of strong systems and ...
Story posted March 26, 2013
- Over the past two years, Oak Hill has raised its composite score (which combines the results from third- fourth- and fifth-grade reading and math exams, plus fifth-grade science) by nearly 25 percent
- The percentage students meeting proficiency in math rose from 55 to 86 and in reading from 33 to nearly 50
- 85 percent of students are proficient in science, surpassing the state average by ten points
- Named a North Carolina 2012 Title I School of the Year
The hard work and dedication of educators and school leaders at Oak Hill Elementary School in High Point, N.C. has received much-deserved recognition for its school reform efforts.
Closing its achievement gaps between students by significant margins has earned Oak Hill North Carolina’s Title I School of the Year award by the state’s Title I Distinguished Schools Recognition program. This honor comes with a $32,500 award and national recognition at a conference in Nashville, Tenn.
Educators shared with conference goers the growth Oak Hill has experienced in the areas of data-based instruction, standards-based planning, school culture, and areas in need of ...
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
On this website, educators, parents and policymakers from coast to coast are sharing what's already working in public schools--and sparking a national conversation about how to make it work for children in every school. Join the conversation!