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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.

Commitment to Community Schools: Alignment in Purpose

The Coalition for Community Schools on behalf of Hartford Public Schools

Story posted October 22, 2013


  • Between the 2009-2010 and 2011- 2012 school years, reading proficiency scores increased by over 10 percentage points
  • School attendance for children participating in afterschool programs has increased by 1% – 3%
  • Proficiency across math, reading and writing performance increased or remained constant across three years for after-school participants, while decreasing in math and writing for non-after-school participants

Hartford’s community school initiative probably could have been started by any of the four agencies or organizations represented on the leadership team. But what has made the effort so strong in its relatively short five-year life is that partners from across the city are involved and deeply dedicated to expanding and sustaining a model built on best practices.

Mayor Pedro Segarra’s office, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, and the Hartford Public Schools all financially support and participate in the Hartford Community Schools Partnership (HCSP). ...

Community Partnerships for STEM Success

Partnership for 21st Century Skills in collaboration with Fond du Lac School District, Wisconsin

Story posted October 22, 2013

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


  • District/business collaboration led to instruction tailored to help meet the needs of the local workforce
  • Test scores across most grades hover around the state average, despite the district serving a slightly higher percentage of students in poverty

Educators, community members and business partners in Wisconsin’s Fond du Lac school district are working together to create new pathways for student success in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

About Fond du Lac School District

More than 7,200 students are enrolled across 14 school buildings in the Fond du Lac School District. In 2005, district leaders began an effort to align instructional practices to 21st century learning objectives by rewriting the district’s curriculum to incorporate the P21 Framework. ...

Building Partnerships for Student Success

American Rights at Work Education Fund in collaboration with Charlotte County Public Schools, Florida

Story posted October 22, 2013


  • Across all age groups, student achievement is up since 2005
  • More than 500 high-quality instructional personnel have been developed and retained through CAPE, a voluntary, tuition-based alternative to university programs created through a labor/management partnership
  • In 2013, Charlotte County Support Personnel Association won a $5,000 AFT Solution-Driven Unionism Award for designing a professional development program in conjuntion with the district to attract, train and retain employees*

In Charlotte County, Florida, everyone understands that communities and students benefit when collaborative decision making becomes the norm. That’s why in 2002, the Charlotte County Public Schools (CCPS) invited members of the community to join the Charlotte Florida Education Association (CFEA) in constructing a comprehensive vision for the district. The partnership at the core of “Student Success” has transformed this lower-income district into one with strong student achievement. ...

A 21st Century Learning Community

Partnership for 21st Century Skills in collaboration with Van Meter Community School District, Iowa

Story posted September 20, 2013

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


  • Students outperformed state averages in almost all grades tested
  • The district's graduation rate is 97.82%
  • Chemistry teacher Trey Armistead’s analysis of year-over-year assessment results indicate that this year’s students - participating in the district's first significant step towards a competency-based curriculum - have outperformed every previous class

Van Meter is truly a learning community. Through a standards-based and personalized approach to instruction, students and teachers alike are mastering content and preparing to innovate and excel in a rapidly changing world.

About Van Meter Community School District

Van Meter is a small K-12 school district located a few miles west of Des Moines and includes just 650 students. In recent years, the district has implemented a 1:1 computing initiative, standards-based grading and the beginnings of competency-based instruction through a model chemistry class.

Van Meter’s size has enabled educators and district leaders to engage stakeholders at every level—including students themselves—in the development of the district’s educational framework. “We involve our students in a lot of the decisions that we make,” says Superintendent Deron Durflinger, “because we want it to be about their learning and to create an environment that’s most conducive to their overall educational experience.”

Prioritizing 21st Century Skill Development

Through a series of conversations, the district identified collaboration, communication, creativity and problem solving (the 4Cs) as essential characteristics of successful students. “When our students graduate from Van Meter, we want them to have a skill set that allows them to be successful in ...

Labor-Management Partnership Supports Student Learning

American Rights at Work Education Fund in collaboration with Pharis F. Fedde Middle School, California

Story posted September 20, 2013


  • The percent of students performing at the proficient or advanced levels of California’s standardized testing has increased, and the school’s Academic Progress Index, a composite measure of school performance, grew over 187 points from 1999, averaging 17 points a year through 2010.
  • More recent data* through 2013 shows gradual improvement with a 2012 API Similar Schools Rank of 10/10.

Since 1993, the ABC Federation of Teachers and the ABC Unified School District have worked to cultivate a labor-management partnership focused on continuing student and community success. Fedde Middle School [where 87% of students are Hispanic and 88% qualify for free or reduced price lunch programs] models the partnership’s district-wide emphasis on communication and collaboration between teachers and administration. Guided by a set of 12 principles, the school’s administration and its teachers devised a strategic plan establishing what they want to accomplish together in the areas of student performance, parental involvement, community partnership, professional development, and facility modernization. ...

Turnaround in Beaufort

AASA Connects on behalf of Beaufort County School District, South Carolina

Story posted August 27, 2013


  • Beaufort County School District has moved from a district in Corrective Action to a district with a grade of B.
  • In 2007, the district had 4 Unsatisfactory schools and no Excellent schools; in 2012, it had no Unsatisfactory rated schools and 8 Excellent schools.
  • A Title One early college high school built in a rural, high (over 90%) poverty area achieved 100% graduation rate, with 83% of seniors graduating with college acceptance letters in hand.

Beaufort County School District serves just over 20,000 diverse students in 31 schools, with over 20% ESL and numerous schools over 90% poverty. ...

Parents, Businesses, Churches, and Nonprofits Come Together for Student Success

The Coalition for Community Schools on behalf of Roosevelt Elementary School, Pennsylvania

Story posted August 27, 2013


  • Reading proficiency is up from 34% in 2006 to 53%; Math is up from 51% to 63%
  • Annual discipline referrals have fallen from 358 to 90
  • 92% participation in parent-teacher conferences

Roosevelt Elementary of Allentown, Pennsylvania is one of 11 community schools supported by United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley’s COMPASS (Community Partners for Student Success) initiative. With more than 35 dedicated partners, including local businesses, nonprofit and community-based organizations, social service agencies, and faith-based organizations, Roosevelt is addressing students’ basic needs, such as health and dental care, as well as providing academic and social support through mentoring and enrichment opportunities.

The El Sistema Lehigh Valley afterschool music program, offered in partnership with Allentown Symphony Association, is just one of many examples of the opportunities provided to students at no cost at Roosevelt, but it clearly demonstrates how multiple partners can work together through a community school model to enrich students’ lives both in and out of the classroom. ...

Literacy Gets a Makeover

By Richard E. Wood and Helen L. Burz on behalf of E.A. Johnson High School, Michigan

Story posted August 27, 2013


  • The percent of students reading at a 10th-grade level or above jumped significantly between October 2011 and May 2012 at all grade levels, rising from 9.9% to 23.7% of 9th graders, 21.6% to 33.5% of 10th graders, 25.3% to 36.2% of 11th graders and 45.6% to 53.1% of 12th graders.
  • Performance assessments tracking student mastery of summarization (Common Core Reading Standard 2) revealed significant jumps in proficiency and advanced proficiency between October 2011 and May 2012.
  • The staff easily reached their goal of 80% implementation in all classrooms.
  • The school rose from the bottom 5% to the 55th percentile of the state in just nine months.

The high school was in the bottom 5% of schools in Michigan, the principal had been replaced, and the school had just received a grant to improve student achievement. The staff read Classroom Instruction That Works (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001), everyone was in a professional learning commu­nity by department, the school and district administration were deeply committed to improvement, and yet no one could articulate the teaching actions necessary to improve academic performance in a systematic manner.

The school is E.A. Johnson High School in Mt. Mor­ris, Mich., near Flint, where the city has felt deeply the impact of the area’s economic decline. The student popula­tion is 72% free and reduced lunch.  

The staff was willing to make the changes necessary for success but needed more than a book study. Many of the structures for professional learning were in place, such as opportunities for collegial dialogue, capacity building, and ...

School in Harlem Proves College is Attainable for Everyone

Kathleen Ponze, The Young Women's Leadership School, New York

Story posted January, 2008. Story updated July 23, 2013


In 2011-2012, the four year cohort graduation rate was 98%, and the five-year cohort graduation rate was 100%.

The school outperformed the state in standardized tests in all subjects across all grades in 2012.

For too many young women growing up in the neighborhoods of East Harlem, college is at best a remote prospect. But The Young Women's Leadership School has dramatically changed the odds for some of East Harlem's most vulnerable students. The Young Women's Leadership School (TYWLS) is an all-girls public school serving grades 7 through 12 in East Harlem, New York City. It enrolls young women who too often face extreme disadvantages: 98% are students or color and a full 84% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Girls in these circumstances often struggle during adolescence to fulfill their academic potential. ...

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Coalition for Community Schools on Behalf of Hillcrest Elementary School, San Francisco, California

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 ...