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.

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. ...

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 ...

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. ...

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). ...

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.” ...