5 Sensational School Success Stories

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by: Lindsay Hutton
Sometimes, it's the school's turn to do some homework. A school's commitment and individual approach to education is critical when it comes to a child's academic success. Read on to learn about five different low-performing schools that turned their struggling districts around to become country-wide role models for the rest of the nation to follow.
Close up of an A plus paper
Booker T. Washington High School
Memphis, TN

Booker T. Washington High School, located in one of nation's poorest zip codes, beat out 450 other schools that entered the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, a competition that highlights their extraordinary progress to prepare students for life after high school.

The community has the 14th highest crime rate in the nation, 70 percent of their homes are headed by single parents, and 20 percent of the school's students lost their homes last year when the local housing projects were demolished. But in the past three years, Booker T. Washington has adopted several academic strategies to improve the school, including separate freshman academies for boys and girls, and more AP class offerings.

The effect these changes had is astounding. The school's graduation rate soared from 55 to 82 percent. Between 2005-2010, the percentage of students going on to college skyrocketed from 4 to 70 percent. The school's math scores are 20 percent higher than the state's average, and it also has the highest attendance record and lowest number of violent incidents among Memphis' public high schools.

What did the school earn for winning this competition? The school will receive a commencement speech from President Obama, of course.

Back view of eager students raising hands to answer question
Greenlee Elementary School
Denver, CO

As part of its turnaround plan, Greenlee Elementary switched from kindergarten through 8th grade, to preschool through 5th grade, with the hopes that beginning their student's education earlier would lead to improved academic performance. When the turnaround program was implemented in 2009, the school also recruited a mostly new staff, including a new principal.

Grant money is being spent on the school's libraries, new technology, and after-school tutoring. And it appears all the hard work is paying off — the school's third-graders posted a 21 point gain in the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP), meaning 55 percent of them are proficient or above in reading. This is a major step up from 2004 and 2005, when the school failed to meet federal reading targets. In addition, based on its state test results, Greenlee Elementary School earned a Great Schools rating of 1 out of 10.

Straight A report card
Sousa Middle School
Washington, D.C.

In 2008, only 23 percent of Sousa Middle School's students were proficient in reading; 17 percent in math. In 2009, the school implemented the School Improvement Grant (SIG) transformation model, bringing in a new principal, two new assistant principals, two instructional coaches, and a special education coordinator. The following year, new teachers were hired, and a legal PTA was established to make parents and the community more involved.

Over the past two years, reading scores have jumped to 39 percent, and math to 42 percent, earning Sousa Middle School the biggest achievement gains of any Washington, D.C. middle school.

Back view of student writing on white board
Morton School of Excellence
Chicago, IL

Morton School of Excellence educates students in pre-K through 8th grade, and in 2008, was one of the worst performing schools in Illinois. That year, the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), a private company that specializes in repositioning underperforming schools, was contracted to manage Morton. The administration and teaching staffs were replaced and upgrades were made to the school, including turning the library into a modern multi-media center with the help of volunteers. Morton is also a Balanced Literary School, meaning the building is open seven days a week to allow teachers to come in to plan lessons.

In the three years since AUSL was contracted, Morton has gone on to make the second-largest test score gains in the city of Chicago. They proudly call themselves a 90-90-90 school — 90 percent low income, 90 percent African-American, and 90 percent of their students now meeting or exceeding the state's academic standards.

Success written on chalkboard
Harry S. Truman High School
Independence, MO

Every year, the International Center for Leadership in Education chooses individual schools to serve as role models for the rest of the nation to follow. This year, only 20 schools were chosen — Truman High School was one of them.

Its journey to becoming a model school started with the High School Task Force, a group of 50 people made up of parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. The Truman staff took the 24 recommendations developed from the High School Task Force, and began implementing them into the curriculum. They sought to strengthen relationships with students and parents to help get everyone involved, and revamped instruction for all students through lesson protocols, literacy across the curriculum, and by making the instruction seem relevant to the students.

The work done by the Task Force has paid off. ACT scores have steadily risen, and currently stand at 22, with a 60 percent participation rate. Only 50 percent of incoming freshmen test at grade level when they begin high school, but that number jumps up to 70 percent of seniors testing at grade level when they graduate. And perhaps best of all — the 4-year graduation rate has risen over the past few years and now stands at 89 percent.