2012 Breakthrough Schools

Bloomfield High School
Bloomfield, NJ
Christopher Jennings, Principal
Changing the culture of a large, diverse high school from a place of teaching to a place of learning requires determination and the commitment of the entire school staff. Documented growth for all students and closing achievement gaps over the last five years has demonstrated that Bloomfield High School (BHS) has made this transformation. BHS is a microcosm of America. Its nearly 2,000 students-45 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, and 16 percent of whom receive special education services-are almost equally African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic. Consistent academic growth over time has led to the community’s resurgent pride in the school and the school being named a 2010 National Title I Distinguished School.

Lafayette Academy Charter School
New Orleans, LA
Mickey Landry, Head of School
Established as a public charter school in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans community it serves, the true rebirth of this PreK through grade 7 school of 800 occurred in 2007 with the appointment of a new Head of School. Since then, the student body, which is nearly 100 percent economically disadvantaged, has been the beneficiary of a shared leadership model, intensive staff development, strengthened community connections, and equal access to rigorous coursework. The results are an impressive upward trend from the disappointing 33 percent passing rate on the required 4th grade state tests in 2006 to a 100 percent passing rate in 2010 and 2011, earning the state’s top designation as a “Center of Excellence.”

Lesher Middle School
Fort Collins, CO
Thomas Dodd, Principal
Lesher Middle School is a school of choice, as are all of the schools in the Poudre, Colorado School District. In 2004 it was a traditional junior high school with a declining enrollment. The school had an International Baccalaureate Middle Years (IBMY) program that was open to select students. Today, it is a thriving middle school, at capacity enrollment with 700 students, 40 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, coming from 29 elementary schools. Now all students are enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Program, experiencing a global perspective to their studies. Lesher’s transformation and very survival was built on the belief that in order to ‘break ranks,’ every adult needed to commit to the success of every child.

Oscar F. Smith Middle School
Chesapeake, VA
Linda Scott, Principal
Tucked into the historic South Norfolk section of the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, Oscar Smith is home to a diverse student body of nearly 950 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. With a high unemployment rate and pervasive poverty in the community, 84 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 25 percent are enrolled in special education. Seven years ago, the staff at Smith, under the leadership of a new principal, initiated a systematic process to address student needs. Targeting poor academic performance through a data-driven differentiated instruction model, notable progress has been made. The school community has reviewed and refined the numerous changes and supports, collaboratively institutionalizing the processes and procedures that made it possible.

Pierce County High School
Blackshear, GA
Anthony Smith, Principal
Whether in a classroom or on an athletic field, student achievement drives the success that builds pride in a community and a school. Nowhere is this truer than at Pierce County High School in rural Southeast Georgia. The school’s 965 students, almost half of whom are economically disadvantaged, have demonstrated what leadership focused on student learning can accomplish. In 2004, PCHS ranked at the bottom of the state in students passing the high school graduation tests and only 55 percent of the students graduated. In 2011, 86 percent of the students graduated and the school ranked 17th in the state on the graduation exams. Everyone wants to be the best-a result of high expectations, solid achievement, and collaboration.

The Preuss School UCSD
La Jolla, CA
Scott Barton, Principal
This grade 6-12 public charter school of 800 students provides an intensive college preparatory education for low-income students drawn from all over San Diego, each representing the first generation in their family to attend college. Through the implementation of a single-track curriculum, smaller classes, and individualized student supports, Preuss has achieved impressive results. Tenth grade students have attained a 100 percent pass rate on the California High School Exit Exam for the past five years. The school boasts a 99 percent graduation rate, 97 percent attendance rate, and a 96 percent rate of acceptance of its seniors into four-year colleges. These are all excellent examples of the school’s proven success and why it was recognized by Newsweek as the nation’s top 2011 “Miracle High School.”

Vallivue Middle School
Caldwell, ID
Rod Lowe, Principal
Sitting at a high point overlooking a beautiful valley near Boise in Southern Idaho, this rural grade6-8 middle school has recently experienced tremendous growth and challenges in all facets of the school. Through teamwork implementing a highly developed strategic planning process, Vallivue moved from the state designation of “Needs Improvement” to “New School” status in four years. With a more clearly defined emphasis on discipline and attendance issues, a collaborative restructuring of the curriculum, the introduction of best practices instructional methods, and adoption of a data-driven assessment model, an environment has been created where the 700 students-of which 70 percent are economically disadvantaged and 30 percent are LEP learners-excel.

Wade Hampton High School
Greenville, SC
Lance Radford, Principal
The turning point for this historic 50-year-old urban school located in the second largest city in South Carolina was the appointment of a new principal in 2005. Since then, the entire school community speaks of the incredible transformation that has taken place under his energetic leadership. Not only have significant strides been made in academic achievement, but also improvements can be seen in all aspects of this school of 1,600, from discipline and attendance to athletics and extracurricular activities. The school’s success has been realized through hands-on leadership and the active participation of all stakeholders, which has resulted in WHHS being named the 2010 “Carolina First Palmetto’s Finest High School.”

West Carter Middle School
Olive Hill, KY
Ryan Tomolonis, Principal
West Carter Middle School has not retained a student in the last five years. Staff proudly points to this fact as evidence that their decision to not permit zeros is working. Coupled with the ‘no zero’ policy were a number of programmatic supports in mathematics and reading/language arts as well as a strong tutorial program offered multiple times during the day, allowing all students to meet state standards and demonstrate significant academic growth. Six years ago, the school with 475 students in grade 6 through 8-69 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged-was one of the lowest performing middle schools in Kentucky. Today, the students outperform 90 percent of the students in the state.

Woodbridge Middle School
Woodbridge, VA
Skyles A. Calhoun, Principal
Woodbridge Middle School’s transformation is a story about strong principal leadership working collaboratively with the entire school staff to teach each student. This was not a school in need of a transformation; rather it was a school that due to boundary shifts experienced a rapid demographic change necessitating a close examination of instructional practices to meet the needs of entering students. Today’s school in no way resembles the school that was in existence in 2005. Then the students were mostly white and middle class; today, there is no majority group among the 1,038 students and almost 50 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. Then, student achievement was average; now it is significantly above average.