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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.

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:


  • 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. ...

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.” ...

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 ...

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 ...

The Road from Good to Great

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

Story posted November 6, 2008. Results updated July 22, 2014.


  • In 2013, 94% of 6th graders, 96% of 7th graders and 90% of 8th graders scored proficient or above on state standardized tests in reading (exceeding both district and state averages)
  • In 2013, 81% of 6th graders, 84% of 7th graders and 87% of 8th graders scored proficient or above on state standardized tests in math (meeting or exceeding both district and state averages).

The halls of Boaz Middle School are buzzing with energy. Students walk past bulletin boards displaying their work, as a visitor stops to browse the examples of graphic organizers and short essays. Teachers stand in the open classroom doorways, discussing students, strategies and the day's successes. Students stop to ask teachers for extra help with presentations and projects. Teachers stop students as they pass by just to ask how things are going. ...

The World Runs Through Oberlin

NASSP Breakthrough Schools on Behalf of Oberlin High School, Ohio

Story posted July 22, 2014


  • 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


  • 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 


  • 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


  • 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.” ...