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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 World Runs Through Oberlin

NASSP Breakthrough Schools on Behalf of Oberlin High School

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 (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 ...

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. ...

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.” ...

Soaring with the SkyHawks

Character Education Partnership, on behalf of Skyview Elementary, Georgia

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


  •  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. ...

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. ...

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 ...