2013 Breakthrough Schools

Christel House Academy
Indianapolis, IN
Carey Dahncke, principal
Established as a public charter a decade ago, this K-11 school now houses 600 underserved inner city students. Open to all district students, selection occurs through a lottery process. The school utilizes the International Primary Curriculum for grades K-6; incorporates project-based, experiential learning as a transition in grades 7-8; and employs the Expeditionary Learning curriculum at the high school level. With a 93 percent economically disadvantaged population and a nearly equal representation of Hispanic, black, and white students, 30 percent of the students are English language learners and 16 percent receive special education services. After a challenging start, Christel House Academy has achieved AYP each year, received an “exemplary” rating from the state, and was designated as a “School to Watch” in 2012.

Clarke Central High School
Athens, GA
Robbie P. Hooker, principal
Collaboration is at the heart of Clarke Central High School’s approach to student learning. Through the efforts of a visionary principal, committed administrative team, and dedicated staff, the school improvement team examined every aspect of the school culture and initiated a host of successful strategies to improve student performance. Data teams-organized by grade level and content areas-meet twice each week to analyze student data, develop common assessments, differentiate instruction, monitor student progress, and provide remediation. The major student achievement gains of the last three years are expected to continue as the staff works as a unit to devise and implement additional ways to meet the needs of the student population, of which 80 percent are minority.

Fossil Ridge Intermediate School
St. George, UT
Bob Sonju, principal
Home to 850 sixth and seventh graders, Fossil Ridge boasts a culture where every minute counts. The staff embraces professional learning communities and provides struggling students with immediate and specific interventions. As a result of extraordinary personalization efforts, proficiency levels in all core areas and subgroups have increased dramatically and the school was recognized as a Utah Professional Learning Community model school. A clear focus, effective collaboration, and a passionate commitment to student learning are now ingrained in the Fossil Ridge culture.

Gervais High School
Gervais, OR
Mike Solem, principal
Transforming a school seen as a failure by every measure to a “school of excellence” has been the mission of the principal and staff of Gervais High School. Three-quarters of this high-minority school of 330 students are considered to be economically disadvantaged. With a Hispanic population of nearly 60 percent and a substantial number of students lacking in basic skills, the task of turning the school around was formidable. But after three years of relentless work, the students are achieving reading and math scores at or above the state averages, earning the school an “outstanding” state rating. Much of the success is attributed to a shared common vision and a sense of collegiality embraced by the entire faculty.

Native American Community Academy
Albuquerque, NM
Kara Bobroff, principal
The value that Native cultures place on deliberative experiential learning and oral reflection is often in opposition to traditional American schooling. With this in mind, in 2006, the Native American Community Academy was founded to create a school for Native American students that would integrate personal wellness and cultural identity with academic success. The academy was the first collaborative charter in New Mexico and is the only urban public charter school in the state that is designed to serve the academic, cultural, and wellness needs of Native youth. In this Title I school serving 415 students in grades 6-12, more than 50 Native American tribes are represented including Apache, Cochiti, Lakota, Navajo, Tiwa, and Zuni.

Norview High School
Norfolk, VA
Marjorie Stealey, principal
The value placed on instructional collaboration and leadership at Norview High School is readily seen through its master schedule: Teachers have plenty of common planning time and instructional leaders have access to a common office and workspace. This urban, high-poverty school of almost 1,900 students has a large numbers of military families and is a model of what intentional, collaborative decision making looks like. Quality instruction, personal accountability, professionalism, and positive relationships are everyone’s responsibility. So strong is the belief in the power of personal relationships and leadership that there is a required leadership course for all ninth-grade students. With these expectations in place, student achievement has steadily grown over time.

San Ysidro High School
San Diego, CA
Hector Espinoza, principal
A commitment to treating each other like family, determination to prove stereotypes wrong, and a strong belief in the power of education are the core values at San Ysidro High School. Located just a mile from the Mexican border in Southern California, in one of the poorest communities in the country, this high-performing school serves 2,360 mostly bilingual students. The geography and poverty of this urban community isolates it from the city of San Diego and its feeder schools, underscoring the need for the school to create its own sense of community. Each day, this sense of community is built stronger and reinforced as every uniform-wearing student is greeted by name when arriving on campus.

Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School
McKinney, TX
Mitchell Curry, principal
Five years ago, the building of a new middle school combined with subsequent redistricting left Scott Morgan Johnson with nearly 900 students that are more diverse and have higher needs than other district middle schools. The school dedicated itself to high expectations and achievement by personalizing the environment and learning experience. This focus has helped the school achieve a “recognized” state rating four years in a row despite being the only secondary campus in the district eligible for Title I status. The belief that all students can learn is evident in the school’s curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices, and is a significant reason for the ongoing success of its students.

Southmoreland Middle School
Scottdale, PA
Vincent Mascia, principal
In 2003, 39 percent of Southmoreland students were proficient/advanced in math and 55 percent in reading. Two years later, the improvement in reading and math scores resulted in the school being ranked 13th in the state. Today, 90 percent of the students are proficient/advanced in math and 80 percent in reading. The staff credits this growth to the transformation of the school culture from one of teacher isolation to one of total collaboration. Grade-level and vertical teams meet regularly to review data, plan intervention and enrichment strategies, develop common assessments, and determine how to support their students. By accepting the responsibility for each student’s learning, Southmoreland embodies the district’s mission of providing high-quality learning for all.

Trenton R-IX High School
Trenton, MO
Dan Wiebers, principal
High schools are often the anchor of their communities, and nowhere is this more true than in rural North Central Missouri where Trenton High School is the community. Over the last 10 years, this 400-student comprehensive high school mirrored the community’s economic downturn, experiencing a significant increase in students living in poverty. Today 55 percent of the students receive meal support, yet student achievement is soaring. Proficiency rates on state assessments as well as the graduation rate have improved dramatically. Because the school demonstrated such a strong charge to student academic achievement in the face of economic hardship, the community rallied its support to pass a bond issue for facility improvement and a tax extension for instructional resources.