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The National Association of Secondary School Principals has released a list of Breakthrough Middle and High Schools for 2008.  NASSP and the Metlife Foundation have recognized these schools, all of which serve many poor students, for dramatically improving student achievement.  ...

Success Stories

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 ...

Helping Students Demonstrate Their Math Knowledge

WestEd, on behalf of Fenway High School, Massachusetts

Story posted June, 2008.  Results updated January 28, 2014.

Fenway's MCAS performance continued its uphill trend in 2013, with 95% of students scoring proficient or above on ELA, up from 91% in 2012.
In 2013, for math, 84% of students scored proficient or above, up from 82% in 2012.
The school had a 92% graduation rate in 2013, up from 83% in 2007.

Fenway High has a unique history.  It was founded in 1983 as a program for students in at-risk situations who were failing in the more traditional high schools.  Fenway became a pilot school in 1995 and is now open to all students, serving a diverse population that is 44% African-American, 36% Hispanic, and 15% Caucasian, with 46% receiving free or reduced lunch.

Fenway has an innovative approach to student learning, most notably in math, and has seen significant improvement in test scores over the past few years. Fenway's principal and math chair both agree that their continuous improvement in mathematics is supported by three key elements:

  • Developing students' deep understanding of math
  • Using formative assessments to gauge student performance
  • Providing resources that both enhance and support students' math knowledge

Developing students' deep understanding of math
Because the ability to demonstrate or explain math knowledge is at the core of Fenway's math program, opportunities to communicate math concepts are critical. While performance on quizzes and exams is vitally important, a student's ability to communicate mathe­matical understanding to others is ...

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 ...

Seattle Students Go Global -- And Soar

Karen Kodama, John Stanford International School, Washington

Story posted December, 2007. Results updated November 25, 2013

• In 2012, proficiency rates for students at John Stanford International were significantly higher than the state averages across all grades and subjects.

• In 2013, student proficiency rates in reading were above 90% in all grades.


"Globalization" is a word everyone uses, but few know how to put into practice. Eight years ago, however, Seattle parents and businesses were asked, in separate surveys, what they thought would make for a successful "international" school - one that immerses students in world languages and cultures as they acquire the skills needed to thrive worldwide.

The answers were put into practice at the K-5 John Stanford International School (JSIS), named for a Seattle superintendent who, before his death from leukemia, envisioned creating high-achieving global-savvy schools. Founded in 2000, JSIS is just that, earning high test scores and prestigious awards, and serving as a model for the district. So how does it do all these things? ...

School in Harlem Proves College is Attainable for Everyone

Kathleen Ponze, The Young Women's Leadership School, New York

Story posted January, 2008. Story updated July 23, 2013


In 2011-2012, the four year cohort graduation rate was 98%, and the five-year cohort graduation rate was 100%.

The school outperformed the state in standardized tests in all subjects across all grades in 2012.

For too many young women growing up in the neighborhoods of East Harlem, college is at best a remote prospect. But The Young Women's Leadership School has dramatically changed the odds for some of East Harlem's most vulnerable students. The Young Women's Leadership School (TYWLS) is an all-girls public school serving grades 7 through 12 in East Harlem, New York City. It enrolls young women who too often face extreme disadvantages: 98% are students or color and a full 84% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Girls in these circumstances often struggle during adolescence to fulfill their academic potential. ...

Viers Mill Elementary School: Success for the Long Haul

Claus von Zastrow, for Viers Mill Elementary, Maryland

Story posted November 9, 2009. Results updated February 27, 2013. Note: You can read more about Viers Mill at


  • In 2012, over 95% of 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students met proficiency standards on state reading tests
  • In 2012, over 98% of 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students met proficiency standards on state math tests
  • In all instances, the school outperformed the state despite serving a higher percentange of students in poverty

If you're looking for a Cinderella story, get to know the people at Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland:

One of the [paraeducators] who had been here a long time said, "you know, they used to call this place 'slumville.'" Now, she says "the President's visiting here...." He came to our school for the work we did. He didn't just happen to show up.... It was the apotheosis of my entire career.... The President of the United States--the President of the United states!--is in our cafeteria...because of the work that went on in this building....

That's Susan Freiman, Viers Mill's staff development teacher, describing President Obama's surprise visit to the school last month. She worked hard with her colleagues to turn the once struggling elementary school into a national exemplar where almost every student is proficient on state tests. That is no mean feat for a school where most students are from low-income families and ...

Taft Information Technology High School: New Strategies Create Graduation Turnaround

AFT's Great Public Schools, on behalf of Taft Information Technology High School, Ohio

Story posted March 1, 2011. Results updated January 22, 2013


  • In 2011, 10th graders outperformed the state in proficiency rates in both reading and math. In reading, proficiency was at 93.4% compared to 85.1% in the state, and 93.3% for math compared to 78.7% in the state.
  • In 2011, 11th graders scored 100% proficient in both reading and math; statewide, proficiency levels were 93.5% for reading and 88.1% for math.
  • Graduation rates went from only 18% less than a decade ago to 91% in 2010.
  • In 2010, Taft was named a Blue Ribbon School to recognize it's new discipline strategies, increased personal attention to students, and stellar graduation improvement

Nearly a decade ago, Taft Information Technology High School graduated only 18 percent of its students, struggled with student discipline, and offered only limited extracurricular activities. Today it is an entirely different—and greatly improved—model school. In fact, Taft was named a 2010 Blue Ribbon School. A radical restructuring led to Taft’s success. A new principal, new discipline strategies, and more attention paid to individual students (teachers now compose individual education plans) have contributed to a higher graduation rate. Last year, Taft’s graduation rate was 95 percent.

Anthony Smith, the current principal and a Taft alumnus, has reinstituted a broad array of extracurricular activities, including football and basketball teams, and the band. Smith has also continued technological improvements and investments at the school.

Don Ellis, who has taught mostly government and economics, has witnessed the school’s transformation firsthand. When he arrived at Taft 27 years ago, a housing project surrounded the school; at that time, students’ problems were often those associated with poverty, such as ...

Turnaround in Tennessee

Hamilton County Schools, Tennessee

Story posted January, 2008. Results updated December 14, 2012.

• Math performance in the district continues to improve, with 59% of 3rd graders scoring proficient or advanced in math in 2012, up from 52% in 2011 and up 4% from the state average. Performance in 7th grade math is also up.
• 42% of 7th graders scored proficient or advanced in reading/language arts in 2012, up from 40% in 2011 and 38% in 2010.

A 2000 report on the performance of elementary and middle schools in Tennessee presented Hamilton County with some sobering news: it was home to nine of the 20 lowest-performing schools in the state.

In response, local foundations and the Hamilton County Department of Education embarked on an effort to improve student literacy in the low-performing schools, all of which were located in poor, urban neighborhoods in Chattanooga. The focus of the effort: embedded professional development and the creation of strong leadership teams in the targeted schools. ...

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. ...

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