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.

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). ...

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 ...

Keeping It Real: A Toledo Public School Prepares Students for College and Career

By Jennifer Dubin, for American Educator, on behalf of Toledo Technology Academy, OH

Story posted November 18, 2014.

A Toledo Public School Prepares Students for College and Career - See more at: http://www.aft.org/ae/fall2014/dubin#sthash.H08pQmkR.dpufResu


  • Approximately 96 percent of the roughly 40 seniors who graduate each year continue in some form of postsecondary education
  • Students often enter projects in national competitions - and win
  • Businesses praise the school's graduates, and about 40 partner with the school to sponsor internships

“Why do I have to learn this?” It’s a question that crosses the minds of many high school students, but one that Ian Furstenberg doesn’t need to ask. Because of his classes in such technical fields as digital electronics and automation, he can see the immediate connection between his schoolwork and his career interests; he dreams of becoming an engineer.

Furstenberg attends the Toledo Technology Academy (TTA), a career-tech school within the public school system in Toledo, Ohio. TTA teaches students in grades 7 through 12 using a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum. In addition to the traditional academic subjects of English, history, science, and math, TTA also provides engineering and technology courses, such as those Furstenberg is taking his junior year.

When he graduates from TTA, Furstenberg will leave with a career portfolio, which will include certifications attesting to his technical expertise as well as letters of recommendation from his teachers and the company that hired him for his school-sponsored internship. If he decides to work right after high school, he can present that portfolio, showcasing his knowledge and skills, to a prospective employer. Or he can submit it to a college admissions office along with the standard application. ...

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. ...

Scheduling for Results

Nicholas J. Myers, Anne Fox Elementary School, Illinois

Story posted December 9, 2008. Results Updated October 28, 2014.


In 2013, the school outperformed the state average on reading assessments in every grade, and by 10% or more in grades 3, 4 and 6
• In 2013, the school also performed well on math assessments, with all grades outperforming the state average by 10% or more

All children can learn. When a school staff truly embraces this core belief and openly demonstrates it to students, parents, and each other, dramatic improvements in academic performance can result.

Take, for example, Anne Fox Elementary School. Fox is a moderately low-income, demographically diverse school in the working-class suburb of Hanover Park, Illinois. The student population is 34 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black, and 19 percent Asian/Pacific Islander. Students speak more than 35 different languages, and the school’s low-income and mobility rates are double the district average. Until recently, Fox School ranked dead last in academic achievement among the district’s 21 elementary schools and was known as a “problem spot.” ...

A Wake-Up Call Sparks Action in Arizona

Stephanie Sheaffer, Vail Unified School District, Arizona

Story posted April, 2008.  Results updated October 28, 2014.

• In 2013, Vail exceeded all state proficiency averages, across grades and subjects

• In almost all grade levels, students are scoring at or above proficiency at rates of 90% and higher in reading

Administrators and staff at the Vail Unified School District recognized they had a problem back in 2003. Student scores on the new statewide AIMS test showed a downward trend as children in Vail schools moved up through the grades. For example, while third-graders were scoring in the 70-percent range on average in math, by middle school and high school proficiency rates dropped into the teens.

"It was a real wake-up call," said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Debbie Hedgepeth. "Students weren't performing where we knew they could and should." ...

Learning Communities Support Student Achievement

By Jennifer Klein on behalf of Fulton County Schools, Atlanta, GA

Story posted October 28, 2014.


  • The graduation rate is up 7%, with some schools seeing even greater gains
  • Overall test scores are up - for example, Tubman Elementary posted an 8% increase in reading, 13% increase in ELA, 14% increase in math, 12% increase in science and a 19% increase in social studies on the 2014 GA CRCT
  • At Westlake High School, SAT scores increased 130 points in one year among the students taking new SAT prep classes

The South Learning Community (SLC) group of schools in Fulton County Schools in Atlanta heard the same old song – increased number of students, poverty up, and greater accountability – but now has a different second verse: “Graduation rates are up 7%, more 9th graders are on track to graduate, and we’re seeing big gains in SAT scores,” says Dara Wilson, area executive director, who works alongside Dr. Donald Fennoy II, area superintendent, to support this group of 27 schools (4 high schools, 5 middle schools, and 18 elementary schools) in south Fulton County, all but one Title 1 with high poverty. These gains are being realized as part of Fulton County School’s district-wide goals of 90% graduation rate, 85% college readiness, and 100% career readiness by 2017 ...

Freedom Within Fences

By Merri Rosenberg on Behalf of Pewaukee School District, Wisconsin

Story posted September 29, 2014.


  • 97.4% graduation rate in 2012-13
  • All schools in the district met AYP under No Child Left Behind
  • 17 AP courses are now offered in the district, nearly double the number of four years ago

Consider the way student data are handled typically at many schools — often tucked away in a teacher’s folder or sequestered in a central-office file cabinet until it’s time to prepare student report cards or work on placements for the coming year.

That’s not the case in Pewaukee, Wis., where at Pewaukee Lake Elementary School there’s a student data wall displayed prominently outside of a staff development room. For each student there’s a three-by-two-inch card attached to the wall, color-coded by grade and complete with a photo, to capture how the student is doing on the Common Core standards, offering a quick visual report to teachers. ...

Finding a Way

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

Story posted August 26, 2014


  • 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. ...

The Long Turnaround

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

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


  • 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 ...