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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.

The Long Turnaround

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

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

Results:

  • In 2013, 89% of students scored proficient or advanced in math, exceeding the state profiency rate by 4%
  • 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 ...

Aiming for a Blue Ribbon in Alabama's Black Belt

Jennifer Pyron, Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of Aliceville Middle School, Alabama

Story posted October 3, 2008, Updated August 26, 2014

AlicevillePoet1WEB.jpgResults:
• In 2013, student proficiency rates in reading and math were 100% in almost all grades, aside for 6th and 7th grade reading where students proficiency rates were 95% and 98% respectively.

On the edge of Alabama, 15 miles from the Mississippi state line, lies Aliceville. With only 5,000 residents, the town relies on agriculture and timber for jobs, and many of its residents live at or below the poverty level. Driving through downtown, you see three closed gas stations with their prices permanently set at $2.58. A right turn takes drivers past an established housing community and a few newer complexes, and then two long, low red brick school buildings come into view. ...

Finding a Way

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

Story posted August 26, 2014

Results:

  • 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 World Runs Through Oberlin

NASSP Breakthrough Schools on Behalf of Oberlin High School, Ohio

Story posted July 22, 2014

Results:

  • Oberlin High has been rated as Excellent by the state four times in the last six years
  • Each year since 2011, every Oberlin High senior has applied and been accepted to a postsecondary institution
  • In 2005–06, seven students were enrolled in the school's one AP course; in spring of 2014, students registered for 190 AP exams
  • In 2011, ACT Midwest named Oberlin High as a recipient of the Red Quill Award for increasing in both the number of students taking the ACT and the school’s composite score

Tucked into an appealing residential community, lined with majestic trees and well-kept homes, Oberlin (OH) High School serves the educational needs of approximately 400 students in this small city of 8,000. Located just 35 miles from downtown Cleveland, Oberlin is the home of the storied Oberlin College, one of the nation’s leading private liberal arts institutions, known throughout the country as the home of the oldest and one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the nation. Founded in 1833, this college is the longest continuously operating coeducation university in the United States. Currently, it has grown to include a 440-acre campus and offers more than 50 majors, adding nearly 3,000 college students and staff members to the city’s population during the school year. Oberlin College students have a reputation for being notably progressive, as demonstrated by their political activism and unshakable support of diversity, social equity and justice, and environmental sustainability. Coupling these ideals with the outstanding academic resources it offers to the community, the influence of Oberlin College on the city and school system cannot be overestimated. ...

Gulf Shores Elementary: Empowering Teachers and Students Through Project Learning

By John Norton on behalf of Gulf Shores Elementary, Alabama

Story posted June 24, 2014

Results:

  • 99% of fourth grade students reading proficiently
  • Progress and development in K-1 writing

How does the principal of a large PK-6 elementary school – a former reading coach well-versed in ARI fidelity – learn to lead a schoolwide transformation to project-based learning?

With the help of some pushy experts, she says. Experts who happen to be teachers in her own school.

Julia Gordon "Julie" Pierce came to Gulf Shores Elementary School as principal in 2008, after 15 years as a teacher and reading coach and a three-year apprenticeship as an assistant principal. An Alabama native, Pierce had a relatively brief first career as an accountant ("my dad urged me to go into business instead of teaching"), then earned her masters degree from UAB and taught in elementary and middle grades for 13 years, some spent in Florida.
 
Most of the Alabama part of Julie Pierce's career has been spent in Baldwin County, where she was trained by the Alabama Reading Initiative in 2002 and coached at Summerdale School as it added 6th, 7th and 8th grades in just three years time. "I learned a lot about the progression of readers as they move up through the middle grades," she remembers. ...

Gulf Shores Elementary (Part II): Some Leadership Lessons Learned

By John Norton on behalf of Gulf Shores Elementary School, Alabama

Story posted June 24, 2014 

Results:

  • 70% of instruction in the intermediate and upper grades is now project-based
  • Developed network of teacher leaders and created a leadership team

In Part 1 of the story about the transformation at Gulf Shores Elementary into a project-based learning school, principal Julie Pierce recalled her own early resistance, based on concerns about maintaining a strong reading program, and how teacher leaders in her school convinced her both things were possible. In Part 2, Pierce reflects on the journey so far and offers some insights gained from the experience.
 
This spring, when a group of educators visited Baldwin County's Gulf Shores Elementary for an "instructional round" organized by the Alabama Best Practices Center, they compared the PK-6 school's one-page instructional target document with what they saw during their observations.
 
The target laid out the GSES educators' vision of "what we want to be doing and what we want the kids to be doing" in two years, says principal Julie Pierce.
 
The visitors, all participants in ABPC's school and district networks,  told the GSES leadership team that "you are living and breathing your one-page target. You are totally on track. You understand where you are headed and you are of a common mind about it."
 
ABPC director Cathy Gassenheimer, who participated in the instructional round, agrees. "The school is amazing. In my opinion, it is an exemplar of a technology-infused school where students are using the tools most of the time to do project learning in very powerful ways ...

Closing a Reading Gap in 17 Days

Brenda Alvarez on behalf of Quil Ceda and Tulalip Elementary Schools, Washington

Story posted June 24, 2014

Results:

  • The reading gap closed for almost every student in just 17 days
  • Readers recognized their own growth and increasing proficiency

Thirty-five miles north of Seattle sits the merged campus of Quil Ceda and Tulalip Elementary schools. The schools are on the Tulalip Indian Reservation and, together, serve just over 500 students, of which 63 percent are American Indian and a majority receives free or reduced-price lunch.

When about 50 percent of the schools’ second graders were losing ground on reading fluency, a decision was made to “flood” second graders with support. The results were a torrent of good news—the gap closed for almost every student in just 17 days.

Co-administrators of these schools, Anthony Craig and Kristin DeWitte, have a vision for their school community.

“We want to catch [achievement] gaps before they begin,” says DeWitte. “Our expectation is that each student makes a year or more growth each year.” ...

Soaring with the SkyHawks

Character Education Partnership, on behalf of Skyview Elementary, Georgia

Story posted January 22, 2009. Story updated April 22, 2014.

Results:

  •  In 2013, students in grade 5 met or exceeded average state proficiency rates in all subjects.
  • In 2013, students in grade 4 met or exceeded average state proficiency rates in all subjects but one.

Although it opened only six years ago, Skyview Elementary School in scenic Lizella, Georgia, has already gained a reputation as an educational star. As a member of the National Basic Schools Network, which focuses on the four building blocks of community, curriculum, climate, and character, Skyview has a sound framework. But it is the passion, dedication, and wonderful vision of its dedicated former and present staff that has made this Title I school, where 50% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, soar to great heights in academics and character. ...

Collaborative Effort Empowers Teachers, Raises Test Scores in South Lane

Krista Parent, South Lane School District, Oregon

Story posted December, 2007. Results updated April 22, 2014

cottagegroveshopweb.jpgResults:
• In 2013, students in grade 11 exceeded state proficiency rates in math, science and reading.

  Ten years ago, Cottage Grove High School, named for the Oregon lumber town in which it's located, was little more than a pit stop for many teenages who'd eventually drop out and work in the mills.  Today, most of those mills are shuttered, and the 900-student school--brimming with AP and professional-technical courses and equipped with robotics, plastics and computer labs--graduates more than 95 percent of its students. ...

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.

GeorgeHallFireTruckWEB.jpgResults:
• 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. ...