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Last week, Education Sector's Elena Silva published an excellent report on the success of formerly low-performing elementary schools in Hamilton County (Chattanooga), Tennessee.  With generous support from the Public Education Fund and the Benwood Foundation in Chattanooga, these "Benwood schools" used a combination of incentives, embedded professional support and strong leadership teams to fuel consistent, long-term improvements in student learning.  (See Public School Insights' story about the Benwood schools here.)

The report advances a very important argument:

It seems that what the Benwood teachers needed most were not new peers or extra pay--although both were helpful. Rather, they needed support and recognition from the whole community, resources and tools to improve as professionals, and school leaders who could help them help their students. ...

haugercarblog.jpgI recently interviewed Simon Hauger, a math teacher at West Philadelphia High School's Academy of Applied and Technical Sciences. Hauger and his students in the Academy have grabbed headlines over the past few years by building the world's first high-performance, environmentally-friendly cars. Their cars consistently win top honors at the Tour de Sol, a prestigious national green car competition. In fact, Hauger and his urban students have repeatedly bested teams from universities like MIT. Their story is incredibly inspiring. (Click here for's account about the Academy's program.)

In the interview, Hauger offers a ringing endorsement of programs that bring hands-on learning into the school day. He describes his own program's genesis, some of the obstacles it has faced, his work with community partners, and lessons he and his students have learned along the way. It's truly worth a listen.

Hauger also poses a very interesting question: If a bunch of high school students in impoverished West Philly can create a high-performance car that gets over 50 miles to the gallon, why won't the major car companies? ...

WeightLoss.jpgRichard Simmons should feel vindicated by a new studies that demonstrate the importance of health and physical education. 

Today's on-line edition of Education Week reports that five elementary schools in Philadelphia have managed to control obesity rates among their students by keeping sodas and candy out of vending machines, trimming back snack foods, encouraging physical education and educating parents, teachers and children about healthy nutrition.

According to a study of these schools published today in Pediatrics, students in schools that followed these steps for two years were half as likely to become fat as students in schools that did not. ...

Mimi Bair is the principal of Memorial Middle School in Little Ferry, NJ, and a former staff member at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Weehawken, where she helped implement an innovative arts-focused curriculum that has helped the school's mostly low-income students outperform students state-wide.  (You can find's story on Woodrow Wilson Elementary here.)

Ms. Bair recently shared some of the secrets of her success.


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

Opening the Door for a New Generation of Students

Coalition for Community Schools, on behalf of Community Links High School, Illinois

Story posted December 16, 2009, updated December 16, 2014.

• Over 90% graduation rate in most recently availabe data.

Built in 1898, John Spry School has served kindergarten through eighth-grade children from southwest Chicago’s Little Village community, where the majority of the population is bilingual, for many years. But historically many of Spry’s students would graduate in the 8th grade, get a job to help support their families, and never complete high school.

In 2003, former principal of Spry, Dr. Carlos Azcoitia, approached the District CEO about adding a high school to Spry, creating a comprehensive community school from preschool through secondary school. After getting the go-ahead, Azcoitia met with community members, parents, the local school council, teachers, and students to discuss the design of a shared community building with an innovative, “no failure” high school. Today, Spry’s Community Links High School, which serves a student population that is 100% Hispanic and over 93% free or reduced price lunch, is opening new doors for the area’s children.

Committing to Post-Secondary Success
As a public, neighborhood school, Spry’s Community Links High School (CLHS) provides a unique opportunity for students and families from the community who are committed to success. Spry has designed a ...

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 ...

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. ...

A Partnership Focused on Leadership

By Cathy W. Gassenheimer of the Alabama Best Practices Center, on behalf of Tarrant City Schools, Alabama

Story posted August 11, 2011. Results updated February 25, 2014.


  • Students continue to perform well in both reading and math, with 91% at or above proficient in reading and 92% at or above proficient in math on the 2013 Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT), despite serving a student population with 96% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch

Sandwiched between interstates, industrial plants and a 2.3-mile Birmingham International runway sits the small urban community of Tarrant, Alabama. Tarrant City serves about 1300 students in four schools: elementary (K-3), intermediate (4-6), middle (7-9) and high (10-12). Many of Tarrant’s children grow up in poverty, live in substandard Section 8 housing, and breathe air tainted by industrial pollution. The district has one of the highest eligibility rates for free or reduced-price lunch in the Birmingham metro area.

The city has an aging population with little space to develop new middle-class homes. Over the past decade and a half, Tarrant has experienced a dramatic demographic shift as traditional blue-collar and industrial employment began to disappear and ...

Designing an Exemplar: University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Alexander School

Penn Alexander School, Pennsylvania

Story posted March, 2008. Story Updated February 25, 2014.


  • Students at Penn Alexander outperformed the state in all subjects across all grades in 2012.
  • Students also outperformed the district and state in all grades in 2013.

When the University of Pennsylvania decided to revitalize their surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhood of University City in the late 1990s, they knew they had to start with an outstanding neighborhood school. Together with the Philadelphia school district and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Penn designed and created the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School (otherwise known as Penn Alexander). The initiative has been a resounding success: Penn Alexander has showed some of the highest test scores in the city (in 2007, at least 80% of its students scored proficient or higher in state reading and math tests). What's more, the school has become a bridge connecting the neighborhood community with the university's vast resources.

Opened in 2001 with grades K-2 and 5-6, Penn Alexander has now expanded to serve over 500 pre-kindergarten through eighth graders. Students must live in the local catchment zone ...

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