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.

Baltimore Community Helps Support School in Impoverished, Riot-Stricken Neighborhood

Coalition for Community Schools

Story posted June 28, 2015

Reposted with permission from the Coalition for Community Schools.

Henriette Taylor has only been the community school coordinator at The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School (HSCT) in Baltimore for a little over a year, but she works hard to make sure the school’s “467 amazing little souls” understand the legacy behind the school they attend.

She reminds them to always include “Historic” before the name of the school, which honors a famous English composer and is also where Thurgood Marshall—the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice—began his education.

“Sometimes those beautiful stories, those hard-fought battles are forgotten,” Taylor says. “Knowing your history often defines where you go.”

Working alongside Principal Kelvin Bridgers, who is also new to the school, Taylor is focusing on re-creating the school as a place where staff and partners surround students and families with a seamless web of supports and learning opportunities. “School isn’t just school,” she says. ...

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. ...

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. ...

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. ...

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 ...

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.” ...

A Wake-Up Call Sparks Action in Arizona

Stephanie Sheaffer, Vail Unified School District, Arizona

Story posted April, 2008.  Results updated October 28, 2014.

• In 2013, Vail exceeded all state proficiency averages, across grades and subjects

• In almost all grade levels, students are scoring at or above proficiency at rates of 90% and higher in reading

Administrators and staff at the Vail Unified School District recognized they had a problem back in 2003. Student scores on the new statewide AIMS test showed a downward trend as children in Vail schools moved up through the grades. For example, while third-graders were scoring in the 70-percent range on average in math, by middle school and high school proficiency rates dropped into the teens.

"It was a real wake-up call," said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Debbie Hedgepeth. "Students weren't performing where we knew they could and should." ...