2008 Breakthrough Schools

Ashe County Middle School
Warrensville, NC
Bobby Ashley, Principal
Recognized nationally for its fine academic and extracurricular programs, this school prepares students for high school and real-life situations by teaching important concepts, essential skills, and problem-solving. All students and staff members are expected to meet high academic standards through a rigorous curriculum and a “no-excuses” approach that ensures all students are held accountable for learning. Teachers use differentiated instructional strategies to engage, challenge, and captivate students.

Columbus Alternative High School – Redesignated in 2013
Columbus, OH
Sheree Wells, Principal
Columbus Alternative High School, whose enrollees are selected by citywide lottery with no entrance exams or requirements, has consistently overcome the many external factors and barriers to success associated with urban school communities. Original Designation: Sherry Powell, Principal. Despite the assumptions that are made about this school because of the word ‘alternative,’ Columbus Alternative High School is a high achieving, award-winning school for academically oriented students in grades 9-12. ‘Alternative’ refers to the school’s original mission statement: “We believe that the primary mission…is to create a truly alternative and rigorous educational experience.” The school has more than successfully fulfilled that ambitious mission in the 30 years since it was named.

Florence Middle School – Redesignated in 2013
Florence, AL
Aimee Rainey, Principal
Among Florence Middle School’s many educational initiatives, a dedication to acquiring exceptional staff members stands above and beyond. Great care is taken during the hiring process to select the best candidates for the school and everyone works hard to retain and support their dedicated personnel. Original Designation: Bill Griffin, Principal. Florence Middle School has mastered the art of turning obstacles into opportunities. After dealing with changing grade configurations, years of regrouping faculty and team members, a school name change, and a move into a converted high school building, the staff and students were then asked to adopt a single 50-minute lunch to accommodate a separate Freshman Center in their space. Most middle schools would rebel at this seemingly outrageous notion, but Florence turned it into an unparalleled opportunity for students to receive the extra academic help and personal attention they needed.

Forest Grove High School – Redesignated in 2013
Forest Grove, OR
Karen Robinson, Principal
Professional Learning Communities and workshop classes are largely responsible for Forest Grove High School’s continued success in closing the achievement gap. Data-driven decision making and common rubrics and assessments further contribute to the school’s gains. Original Designation: John O’Neill, Principal. From the moment you enter the lobby, it is clear that Forest Grove High School places high value on achievement for all students. Large banners highlight the recognition the school has received for academic accomplishments such as Oregon’s Closing the Achievement Gap award two years running and for meeting AYP. When visiting classrooms, you see students actively engaged in the subject matter, whether it is in music, art, or history; a reading workshop for struggling readers; an ELL class for non-English speakers; or an honors biology class that is open to all students who wish to take it. The school’s mission statement, “To provide a superior education that challenges our students to achieve academic and personal excellence and to become world-class citizens,” is posted throughout the school.

Isaac E. Young Middle School – Redesignated in 2013
New Rochelle, NY
Anthony Bongo, Principal
“Literacy for All” is Isaac E. Young Middle School’s new creed, and their professional development is targeted specifically to achieve this laudable goal. Original Designation: Isaac E. Young was deemed “in need of improvement” by the state of New York in the 2003-04 school year. Student achievement was low and the school had large numbers of second language learners and achievement gaps between groups of students. Staff members felt that the label didn’t reflect the climate in the building but realized that without intensive instructional intervention they were placing their students’ futures at risk.

James Cashman Middle School
Las Vegas, NV
Misti Taton, Principal
School improvement demands focus. Staff members at James Cashman Middle School believe that student achievement comes from challenging every student and ensuring that no student is overlooked from programs. But as a result of low test scores, the school was in the third year of school improvement and about to be taken over by the state. Teachers had been trained in myriad improvement programs, yet progress was excruciatingly slow. The opening of a neighboring school coupled with a boundary change was the catalyst for the staff to thoroughly examine what they were and were not doing.

Pocomoke Middle School
Pocomoke City, MD
Caroline Bloxom, Principal
Pocomoke Middle School is a model for school systems to emulate. Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) has provided resources to support the academic program and the sense of pride. The school, with its commitment to shared leadership and partnerships with the community, has leveraged those resources into a comprehensive program that provides for the complete development of each student. Noting the importance of continued support and diligence, Jon Andes, the superintendent of WCPS, told a local newspaper, “Success is never an end-all. Public education is a continuous pursuit-an endless process with new challenges and new opportunities around every corner.”

Roxbury Preparatory Charter School
Roxbury, MA
Dana Lehman, Co-Director
Roxbury Preparatory Charter School is anything but a typical school. For the fourth consecutive year, Roxbury Prep, a public charter school serving grades 6-8, has been designated the highest performing urban middle school in Massachusetts. The school has 200 students and is tucked away on the third floor of a neighborhood health care center. It is a relatively small school that consists of a series of classroom doors off a narrow hallway, but its walls display motivational materials, the school’s creed, vocabulary words, college banners, lists of students’ creed deeds or demerits, stories of famous role models, and notices for upcoming events and activities. Additional learning opportunities occur before and after school, on weekends, and during the summer. Roxbury Prep is a charter school founded to offer Boston’s students a rigorous college preparatory education, and it has been successful in preparing students to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college.

Westwood High School
Memphis, TN
Tommy McCarter, Principal
What does shared leadership look like in a high school? At Westwood, it is evident when teachers and staff members are in the halls between classes talking with students and working together to solve problems and improve instruction. The first thing McCarter did was meet with the staff to emphasize that they were the instructional experts and ask them to prioritize what they would do to change the school. Everyone agreed that the first priority was to restore order. No new rules, just consistency in implementation of those that already existed. That meant every adult committed to being visible and involved with the students. Parents as well as students were quickly made to understand that behavior that was tolerated in the past was no longer acceptable. Given the staff’s priorities, McCarter mandated teacher/parent conferences for behavior and academic issues as well as tutoring for students in need of academic support. Rapidly, student achievement began to improve. Today, students and staff members are proud of what they have accomplished: There are no fights at school, every student is in class on time, and the school is now in “Good Standing” and ranks near the top of high schools in Tennessee.

Wheaton High School – Redesignated in 2013
Wheaton, MD
Kevin Lowndes, Principal
Small, project-driven learning communities called “Academies” define Wheaton High School’s efforts to instill college and career readiness in students. Academies provide students with a cutting-edge, rigorous sequence of four to five courses, job shadowing, internships, and field trips that culminate in a “capstone” project. Original Designation: Data-driven decision making, targeted staff development, collaborative leadership, and the sheer will of a dedicated, committed staff have launched Wheaton High School on a promising new trajectory. This tremendous turnaround story comes on the heels of years of difficult challenges and lackluster student achievement for this economically and culturally diverse school. But after several years of dedicated effort, Wheaton is getting attention of the positive variety.