Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child


Success Stories

Changing Course

NASSP's Principal Leadership Magazine, on behalf of Wheaton High School, Maryland

Story posted August 19, 2008. Story updated April, 24, 2012.

• 60% of students enroll in honors classes, with 26% in AP classes
• The school's pass rate on the state algebra exam, at 88%, exceeds the state's by four points; the pass rate for English met the state's at 82%.

Data-driven decision-making, targeted staff development, collaborative leadership, and the sheer will of committed staff members have launched Wheaton High School on a promising trajectory. Located in Montgomery County, MD, a predominately affluent area that has more than 20 high schools, Wheaton (which is 51% Hispanic, 26% African American, and 37% free or reduced price lunch) has always received attention, but unfortunately, for many years the attention focused on lackluster student achievement. ...

A Change of Direction

NASSP's Principal Leadership Magazine, on behalf of James Cashman Middle School, Nevada

Story posted June, 2008.  Results updated September 30, 2014.


  • In 2013, the percentage of Cashman students meeting or exceeding state standards was higher than the state average in reading for grades 6, 7 and 8, despite Cashman serving a significantly more disadvantaged population than the state as a whole.
  • In 2013, the percentage of Cashman students meeting or exceeding state standards was higher than the state average in math for grades 7 and 8.

School improvement demands focus. Staff members at James Cashman Middle School in Las Vegas (where 100% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch) believe that student achievement comes from challenging every student and ensuring that no student is overlooked. ...

Taking Flight in Queens

Valarie Lewis, Osmond Church/PS/MS 124, New York

Story posted September 25, 2008. Results updated January 22, 2012.


• While serving a student population that is 97% free or reduced price lunch, the school outperformed the state in math in grades 4 through 8 in 2011.
• In English/Language Arts, the school outperformed the state in grades 4 through 7 in 2011.
• One highlight: 83% of 8th graders met or exceeded state standards in math, compared with just 60% statewide in 2011.

Osmond A. Church Elementary School, otherwise known as PS / MS 124, sits so close to John F. Kennedy Airport that some at the school refer to it as "Hanger 12." It is appropriate, then, that achievement scores have "taken off" in recent years and continue to soar within all subgroup populations.

How has this been accomplished, one might ask? It began in 1999 when the school applied to New York State for a Comprehensive School Reform Grant. The school community chose to embrace E.D. Hirsch's "Core Knowledge Program," which was developed on the basis of scientific research. ...

A Sunny Day in Multnomah County: The SUN Community Schools Story

Diana Hall, SUN Community Schools, Multnomah County, Oregon

Story posted April, 2008. Updated December, 2011.


  • SUN1web.jpg75 percent of participating students showed an increase in state reading scores, and 77 percent did so in math
  • More than 80 percent of participating seniors graduated, compared to less than 60 percent for the district
  • SUN schools served nearly 18,000 youth and about 3,700 adults in enrolled programming in 2009-2010

Young people have a voice in Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes the city of Portland.  When the county began planning a community school initiative, not only did young people contribute ideas, they also named it.  The name they chose, Schools Uniting Neighborhoods, or SUN schools, reflects the belief that schools, working with their communities can do more than just teach math and reading, they transform neighborhoods and help young people succeed. ...

Reconnecting Neighborhoods with Schools in Nebraska

Coalition for Community Schools, on behalf of Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska

Story posted June, 2008, Updated December, 2011


  • 71 percent of students enrolled in Lincoln CLCs met or exceeded state writing standards
  • 74 percent met or exceeded state reading standards
  • 84 percent met or exceeded the math standards

The story of Lincoln's community school movement begins in 1999, when the notion of "community learning centers" (CLC), synonymous with community schools, peaked the interest of the Foundation for the Lincoln Public Schools (FLPS), a local education fund affiliated with the Public Education Network (PEN). This interest grew with a visit that key Lincoln stakeholders took to the Local Investment Commission in Kansas City to look at their Caring Communities work, another model of community schooling. ...

E2—To Exceed Expectations

NASSP Breakthrough Schools 2011, on behalf of Franklin Middle School, Champaign, Illinois

Story posted July 25, 2011


  • Over the past five years, the percent of students meeting or exceeding standards on the ISAT has consistently increased
  • The number of students in honors courses is steadily increasing: In the 2009-10 school, 62% of the student body was enrolled in one or more honors class [34% of whom were Black and 37% of whom were low income]
  • Attendance at parent-teacher conferences and other contacts are above 90%

Franklin Middle School is located in the heart of an economically challenged neighborhood in the small urban city of Champaign in central Illinois. Though staffed by dedicated adults and attended by hardworking students, Franklin is recovering from a difficult past.

As a result of years of racial discord, segregation, and lawsuits, in January 2002, the Champaign Unit 4 School District adopted a judicial consent decree outlining an educational equity agreement. Key points included establishing processes for parental choice of schools and increased community involvement. ...

At-Risk Four-Year-Olds Are Target of Attention

Joyce Levey and Wanda Fisher, Tuscaloosa City Schools, Alabama

Story posted March, 2008
Story updated February, 2011


  • The program is popular and each year more parents apply their children. 
  • It likely reduces the number of students referred to special education.
  • The program acclimates at-risk children to the school environment, fosters     development, provides health attention and two balanced meals per day, and  allows students to safely socialize with peers. 

TuscPreK2.JPGTuscaloosa, Ala.--Tuscaloosa City Schools and community organizations have joined efforts to provide pre-kindergarten education to help at-risk children get off to a quick start when they begin school. Tuscaloosa was named the Alabama winner in the 2008 National Civic Star Award competition as a result of the program, and the program continues to thrive. ...

A Culture of "We"

AFT's Great Public Schools, on behalf of Louisa May Alcott Elementary School, Ohio

Story posted December 9, 2010

• In both 2009 and 2010, Alcott's students outperformed their peers in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District
• In 2010, Alcott's fifth-graders outperformed their peers across the state in reading, math and science  

Louisa May Alcott serves a challenging population: 100 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and about a third are designated as special education. Students often enroll with emotional and social problems, difficult family issues and low academic achievement. But thanks to an outstanding faculty and staff, these hurdles are by no means insurmountable. On the 2009 state assessment, Alcott students outperformed Cleveland students in general: 77 percent scored proficient in reading, compared with 49 percent districtwide. Similarly, 75 percent of Alcott students were proficient in math, compared with 41 percent of students who were proficient districtwide. The results for special needs students were just as impressive—in both math and reading, Alcott students significantly outperformed their peers districtwide.

Regional superintendent Cliff Hayes Jr. has lauded the leadership of the school, noting its “culture of ‘we.’”¹ Alcott principal Eileen Stull is known for consensus building and collaboration, as well as her open-door policy for continued conversations about curriculum and instruction. Yet Stull is hesitant to take credit; she attributes the school’s success to students’ families and her staff. She says, “Honestly, I have the most fabulous teachers here.”² Parents appreciate the community atmosphere, saying that Stull seems to ...

Leveraging Resources to Transform a Struggling School

Teresa Pitta, John Muir Elementary School, California

Story posted November 17, 2010

• Once the lowest performing elementary school in its district, now one of the highest

• Over the past five years, the school has shown significant growth on every state test administered

John Muir Elementary is the oldest of the Merced City Schools. Just five years ago, we were the lowest performing elementary school in the district. Today, we are one of the highest.

Our school serves about 500 children in preschool through Grade 5. 86% of our students receive free or reduced price lunch. Most live in rentals, low cost apartments and multi-family dwellings within walking distance of school; however, approximately 200 children are bused to Muir daily from the “unhoused” Loughborough area.

Our families are not only stricken by poverty, but they also experience generational gangs, drug use and violence. We have an abundance of grandparents struggling to parent their children’s children and students in and out of foster care.

Yet we at John Muir believe our students can learn, and we work to develop relationships with our students and families so they believe that as well. And we celebrate our students. We celebrate Perfect Attendance, growth on formative assessments and ...

When "City Connects" Helps the Whole Child, Achievement Gaps Shrink

Dr. Mary Walsh and Patrice DiNatale, City Connects, Massachusetts

Story posted June 18, 2010

• The intervention moved students at the 50th percentile up to or near the 75th, and students at the 25th up to or near the 50th
• While the intervention ends in 5th grade, positive effects continue to be seen in middle-school test scores

An innovative program out of Boston College is making a big difference for children in 11 Boston elementary schools. City Connects (CCNX) works with the schools to link each child to a "tailored set of intervention, prevention and enrichment services located in the community."

Its efforts have gone a good distance towards closing achievement gaps between the low-income children in the program and children who meet state averages. CCNX's results offer powerful support for what should be common sense: When we address the challenges poor students face both within and beyond schools, they flourish.

A rigorous study (PDF) of the program's outcomes tells a pretty stunning story:

  • The beneficial impact of BCNX [the former name of CCNX] on student growth in academic achievement (across grades 1 to 5) was, on average, approximately three times the harmful impact of poverty.
  • By the end of grade 5, achievement differences between BCNX and comparison students indicated that the BCNX intervention moves students at the 50th percentile up to or near the 75th percentile, and the students at the 25th percentile up to or near the 50th.
  • For multiple outcomes, the treatment effects were largest for students at greatest risk for academic failure. For example, English language learners experienced the largest treatment benefits on literacy outcomes, by third grade demonstrating similar report card scores to those proficient in English in comparison schools. In fact,as a result of BCNX, there was no longer an achievement gap between these students.
  • After grade 5, the lasting positive effects ofthe BCNX intervention can be seen in middle-school MCAS scores. The size ofthe positive effect of BCNX ranged from approximately 50% to 130% as large as the negative effects of poverty on these scores.1

We recently caught up with two of the program's leaders: Dr. Mary Walsh, its Executive Director, and Patrice DiNatale, its Director of Practice.

Public School Insights: What is City Connects?

Walsh: City Connects is a systemic, evidence-based approach to school-based student support. It involves assessing, in conversation with teachers and other school staff, each child in the school at the beginning of the school year and then developing a tailored student support plan based on that student's strengths and needs in four areas: academic, social emotional/behavioral, health and family.

That support plan involves accessing services, supports, resources and enrichment for the child, both school-based resources as well as, and importantly, community resources. A trained professional with a Master’s degree—either ...

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