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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.

From Fire Trucks to the Federal Court: An Academic Edge for Low-Income Students

Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of George Hall Elementary, Alabama

Story posted October 30, 2008.  Results updated March 25, 2014.

• In 2013, 100% of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders scored proficient or above in math
• In 2013, over 95% of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders scored proficient or above in reading

"There's not a minute to be lost." That's the mantra in many high-needs schools today, where the pressures of high-stakes accountability have reduced the time spent on "untested" subjects and activities like art, music, drama and physical education. And perhaps no brand of school fun has taken the drubbing given to the venerable Field Trip in recent years. Trips away from school often take most or all of the day, and a day lost from intensive instruction (and test preparation) is no small matter to the principals of high-needs schools, where children often have a lot of catching up to do. ...

Strategic Staffing Helps a Title I School Succeed

Jennifer Pyron, Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of Indian Springs Elementary, Alabama

Story posted November 19, 2009. Results updated January 28, 2014.


  • Although Indian Springs serves a significantly higher percentage of low-income students than the state, they met or exceeded the state average on standardized tests in most grades and subjects and came within two percentage points in all others.
  • In 2013, grade 4 outperformed the state by 4 points in reading and 14 points in math.
  • Grade 3 outperformed the state in math by almost 10 points in 2013.

Indian Springs Elementary is located along one of the many rural highways that crisscross northern Mobile County, in territory marked by signs of poverty and under-development. There’s no interesting history behind the name of the unincorporated community the school serves—Eight Mile is just the distance down U.S. 45 to the city.

The exterior of Indian Springs shows the wear and tear of a building that has housed students for many decades. The school comes alive only after you cross the threshold, where you find a physical space that is clearly well-loved by the faculty, staff and students.

Just inside the front doors, a small sitting area decorated with potted plants and flowers welcomes visitors. The walls are bright and the floors shine. Bulletin boards and student work cover every inch of the hallways. Teachers decorate the entrances to their classrooms with personal touches, like the kindergarten teacher whose door resembles a front porch with columns, shutters and an awning.

The school serves 451 students in grades pre K-5. It has a 50-50 ratio of white and African American students—87% of whom meet federal poverty guidelines. About 14 percent are classified as having special needs. The demographics offer few clues about the school’s academic performance. But in fact ...

Transforming a School Step by Step

Melissa Glee-Woodard, Lewisdale Elementary School, Maryland

Story posted April 7, 2010. Results updated January 28, 2014.

Lewisdale outperforms average state proficiency rates in all grades and subjects except one, with a significantly higher population of low-income students.
In 2013, 80% of 5th grade students scored proficient or above in science, up from 49% in 2012, and outperforming the state by 13 points.

When Melissa Glee-Woodard became principal of Maryland’s Lewisdale Elementary School four years ago, it was struggling. The school was in the dreaded “school improvement” process because of the performance of multiple subgroups of students, and it needed change.

Change is what it got. But not the dramatic “fire-all-teachers” change that has been making the papers. Rather, Glee-Woodard inspired teachers, parents and students with a new vision. The staff began focusing on student data in a meaningful way. Targeted professional development addressed areas of weakness in the instructional program. And new summer programs ensured that students kept their academic success going even when school was not technically in session.

As a result, Lewisdale has made AYP every year Glee-Woodard has been principal. The National Association of Elementary School Principals recently honored her for her transformational leadership.

She joined us for a conversation about the school and its journey.

Public School Insights: How would you describe Lewisdale?

Glee-Woodard: Lewisdale Elementary School is located in an urban setting in Prince George's County, Maryland. We are in the backyard of the University of Maryland, College Park. It is a working-class neighborhood. 80% of our students are ...

An Innovative and Collaborative Learning Community

Partnership for 21st Century Skills in collaboration with Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, IL

Story posted December 17, 2013

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


  • The school outperforms the district and state in proficiency rates for all grades and in all subjects tested.
  • In 2013, 99% of 4th graders were proficient or advanced in science, and 92% of 5th graders were proficient or advanced in math.

The teachers and leadership of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School have built a collaborative and innovative learning community through project-based and nontraditional instructional strategies.

About Benjamin Franklin Elementary School

Benjamin Franklin Elementary School exemplifies the Glen Ellyn, Illinois (District 41) district and community’s commitment to preparing students for a rapidly changing world through a 21st century skills framework. Nearly six hundred students attend Franklin Elementary, which is in the western suburbs of Chicago. ...

The Personal Approach

Jacqueline Raphael, on behalf of Chelan High School, Washington

Story posted July 24, 2009. Story Updated December 17, 2013


  • In 2013, 88.2% of 10th graders met or exceeded state standards in writing, compared with 85% for the state as a whole, despite serving a high-needs population where 58% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch (compared to 40% statewide)
  • 81.5% of 10th graders met or exceeded state standards in reading, close to the state average
  • Students at Chelan had a 90.1% pass rate for the End of Course (EOC) exam for Math Year 2 and a 66% pass rate for the EOC for Math Year 1, compared to 76.5% and 53%, respectively, for the state


It’s the start of the school year. A senior student and his mother are meeting with Chelan High School principal Barry Depaoli in his office. The student is not on track to graduate.

“Francisco, let me tell you my dream,” the mother says to her son. “My dream is to see you in your cap and gown on the stage.”

Depaoli smiles at the student. “Your mother loves you more than anybody else in the world. Now you know her dream. If that doesn’t motivate you, something’s wrong.” The student nods, and Depaoli goes to work. He arranges for additional tutoring and instructional support from Francisco’s teachers. He suggests to classified staff that ...

Stuart Elementary Handles Children, Community with Care

U.S. Department of Education's Achiever, on behalf of J.E.B. Stuart Elementary, Virginia

Story posted January 29, 2009. Results updated December 17, 2013


  • In 2012, J.E.B Stuart outperformed the state in almost all subjects tested across all grades, while 82% of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch compared to 33% for the state.
  •  79% of 3rd graders tested proficient or above state standards in math compared to 64% for the state, and 98% of 3rd graders tested proficient or advanced in science compared to 90% in the state.

"Today, class, we're going to cover SOL 3.1, scientific investigations," says Frenishee Smith, a third-grade teacher at J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Richmond, Va., referring to Virginia's Standards of Learning. "What do you have on your body that helps you make observations?"

"Your brain," answers one student.

"Exactly, because your brain tells everything what to do. That's our computer. What else?"

After each student called upon names the five different senses, Smith pulls out from her desk drawer an empty food can covered with a black sock and little colored pom-poms. "Before we go on, I want to introduce you to my field can," she says, which is met with ...

Seattle Students Go Global -- And Soar

Karen Kodama, John Stanford International School, Washington

Story posted December, 2007. Results updated November 25, 2013

• In 2012, proficiency rates for students at John Stanford International were significantly higher than the state averages across all grades and subjects.

• In 2013, student proficiency rates in reading were above 90% in all grades.


"Globalization" is a word everyone uses, but few know how to put into practice. Eight years ago, however, Seattle parents and businesses were asked, in separate surveys, what they thought would make for a successful "international" school - one that immerses students in world languages and cultures as they acquire the skills needed to thrive worldwide.

The answers were put into practice at the K-5 John Stanford International School (JSIS), named for a Seattle superintendent who, before his death from leukemia, envisioned creating high-achieving global-savvy schools. Founded in 2000, JSIS is just that, earning high test scores and prestigious awards, and serving as a model for the district. So how does it do all these things? ...

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. ...

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). ...

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 ...