2017 Breakthrough Schools

Alice Ott Middle School

Portland, OR
James Johnston, Principal

Two-thirds of the students at Alice Ott Middle School are economically disadvantaged and almost half of the students are originally non-English speaking. Staff credit the success of this urban school to its approach to student, parent, and community engagement. The staff firmly believe strong relationships with students and families are the key to greater student achievement. A measure of this success is the three-year average attendance rate of 90 percent by parents at student-led conferences. Over that same period, 6,000 positive comments have been sent home. These collaborative efforts have underpinned strong academic gains. (2014)

B.F. Terry High School

Rosenberg, TX
Andree Osagie, Principal

This suburban Houston school with an enrollment of 1,997 students has faced many challenges over the last few years. The school is now larger and more diverse, serving greater numbers of students with needs. Also, state assessments and standards have changed multiple times. The school’s response has been to “circle up” and focus on total engagement. Students are required to participate in clubs/activities; teachers serve on school management committees; and administrators focus on quality instruction. The guiding philosophy of “everyone being at the table” is bearing results, notably a 200 percent increase in enrollment in advanced courses. (2011)

Bloomfield High School

Bloomfield, NJ
Chris Jennings, Principal

With almost 2,000 students, this suburban Newark high school is urban in demographics and small-town-like in culture. As the demographics and state accountability measures changed, it became apparent that the way to improve graduation rates was to start before students were enrolled. According to the principal, “The most important people at Bloomfield High School are now the ninth-grade students and teachers.” The teacher-designed freshman program with its summer orientation, team structure, and common planning time is credited with reducing student failures by 50 percent and significantly improving academic achievement. (2012)

Christel House Academy

Indianapolis, IN
Colin Butler, Secondary Principal

At Christel House Academy, a K–12 urban charter school of 645, staff strive to break their students’ cycle of poverty through development of content knowledge, character, habits of work, and 21st century skills. In classrooms, curriculum, instruction, assessments, and academic interventions are all aligned to high standards. No less important are advisories held each day with a focus on team building, character education, goal setting, and career planning. CHA has created a culture where students are free to explore and grow while receiving the support necessary to excel academically. (2013)

Clarke Central High School

Athens, GA
Marie Yuran, Principal

The primary focus of Clarke Central High School’s improvement efforts has been the implementation of collaborative planning teams that enable teachers to both plan together and receive the important information needed to adjust and tailor lessons. With its entire student population economically disadvantaged, this 9–12 urban school has used rigorous coursework and differentiated instruction with an emphasis on literacy, global connections, and use of digital tools to bring about significant improvements in student achievement, while meeting the new challenges presented by state curriculum and assessments. (2013)

Fossil Ridge Intermediate School

St. George, UT
Jonathan Howell, Principal

Fossil Ridge Intermediate School, a large suburban 6–7 school, is one of the original professional learning communities and is still a model school for using collaboration to implement an agreed-upon philosophy. Based on interdependent teams with common preparation time, members establish learning targets and assessments, discuss student interventions, and share instructional strategies. An important daily occurrence, REACH (Reinforce, Extend, Challenge, Help), provides for additional opportunities, interventions, and support for all students. These varied approaches have contributed to improvement of overall student achievement and in assisting at-risk students from all subgroups. (2013)

Hastings Middle School

Hastings, NE
David Essink, Principal

As a rural 6–8 school with a 60 percent economically-disadvantaged population, Hastings Middle School has strived to develop a culture where students come first. Through collaborative leadership based on a professional learning community model, staff believes a focus on using data to make decisions is essential to allow teachers to constantly adjust instruction to meet the unique needs of every student. The success of HMS students stems from the school’s passion to remain a true middle school with teams, exploratory options, and a focus on the whole child. (2014)

Lafayette Academy Charter School

New Orleans, LA
Monica Boudouin, Head of School

The school motto, “Whatever it Takes, No Excuses … Just Results,” allows this large, urban PreK–8 charter school to experiment with a variety of strategies. A learning environment focused on monitoring progress and student interventions, supported by well-designed lesson plans, rigorous lessons, thorough data analysis and lesson modifications, is the foundation for student success. Intensive and sustained efforts to involve parents and community help create an environment of mutual respect and collaboration among all stakeholders, each with a passion for continuous student improvement and growth. (2012)

Lesher Middle School

Ft. Collins, CO
Tom Dodd, Principal

Culture is everything at this diverse, exurban middle school. School data supports the belief that if students have strong relationships with their peers and teachers, their academic performance will blossom. The data supports this belief. Instruction, which follows the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme framework and standards, is rigorous. From the professional learning communities that share in schoolwide decision-making while monitoring teaching and learning, to the varied student recognition programs like the “Where Everyone Belongs” mentoring program, every structure is designed to make the culture of the school inclusive. (2012)

Maplewood Richmond Heights High School

St. Louis, MO
Keven Grawer, Principal

Goals are not goals at this diverse urban school; they are “areas of attack”. This forceful attitude yielded significant and consistent student achievement over time. Teachers, in teams, benchmark against state standards, utilize assessment growth measures, and review student work with each other to improve teaching and learning. Students are given model papers that make expectations clear and, via flexible scheduling, are given intensive support as needed during the school day to address deficits. There is “no opt out” for any member of the MRHS community in this culture. (2014)

Marshall Fundamental Secondary School

Pasadena, CA
Mark Anderson, Principal

Marshall Fundamental Secondary School, an urban 6–12 school of 2,000, set a goal of being the state leader in transitioning to its new curriculum and assessments using the rigorous Advanced Placement program as a benchmark. Believing that students can engage in challenging instruction aligned to these standards, a collaborative leadership team with a focus on student learning successfully implemented the necessary changes. The school, with a 59 percent disadvantaged student body, maintains a graduation rate of 96 percent, with over 40 percent of the seniors passing at least one AP exam. (2014)

Native American Community Academy

Albuquerque, NM
Kara Bobroff, Executive Director

Native American Community Academy is a grade 6–12 charter school created to meet the needs of urban Native American students in a college-preparatory setting. This school’s unique, integrated curriculum combines Native American culture, language, and values of community with rigorous academics. Underpinning this approach is a holistic-wellness philosophy for students and staff that guides all decision making. These components are credited with dramatically improving student achievement for sixth graders entering far below grade level to surpassing the graduation rates of Native American students in the Albuquerque Public Schools. (2013)

Norview High School

Norfolk, VA
Marjorie Stealey, Principal

School improvement at this 1,871-student, diverse, urban school began with building collaborative leadership. As the collaboration strengthened, teachers asked for more formal involvement with instructional leadership. A professional development process was instituted to build skills and provide opportunities for teachers to practice newly acquired skills, which gave rise to effective coaching throughout the building. At the same time, student leadership expanded to include classes in mentoring and leadership development. This collaborative philosophy has translated into a more personalized school environment yielding continued student academic growth and higher graduation rates. (2013)

Oberlin High School

Oberlin, OH
William Baylis II, Principal

Over the past several years, Oberlin High School, a small, exurban, 9–12 school, has re-committed itself to its mission as an International Baccalaureate World School by adding an IB Middle Years Programme and expanding the IB Diploma Programme. Refocused attention on curriculum and instruction, collaboration within departments, and thorough analysis of data has led to a successful revitalization. By adding advisories and college access counselors, and placing value on the importance of teacher- and building-level leadership teams, OHS has maintained a 100 percent student acceptance rate to post-secondary institutions. (2014)

Oscar F. Smith Middle School

Chesapeake, VA
Judith Thurston, Principal

A rigorous program of personalized instruction and ongoing assessment is essential at this 6–8 suburban school where 100 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. Each faculty member serves as a coach to five students, promoting more active involvement of students in their own learning. Numerous individual support systems, in addition to curriculum modifications and differentiated instruction, are in place to ensure that the school’s mission of academic excellence and continuous growth for all students is achieved. All indicators regarding the school’s goals point to continued success. (2012)

Pierce County High School

Blackshear, GA
Dara Bennett, Principal

In the face of changing state accountability measures, rural Pierce County High School has maintained a level of achievement that surpasses state averages. The school community believes that their mission is to prepare all students for college and careers. To meet standards, teachers work in content teams, analyzing student progress and adjusting instruction. Teacher-student collaboration on post-high-school planning has resulted in students earning over 800 college credits via dual enrollment courses by graduation. A creative, modified block schedule facilitates this approach and allows time for additional supports to meet student needs. (2012)

San Ysidro High School

San Diego, CA
Hector Espinoza, Principal

San Ysidro High School, located within sight of the Mexican border, has an enrollment of 2,340 students. Ninety-three percent of the students are Hispanic, 71 percent are economically disadvantaged and 44 percent are English-language learners. The school is most proud of its students’ academic achievements and 98 percent graduation rate. These are achieved by professional learning communities constantly analyzing data, using AVID techniques schoolwide, and providing early intervention programs to meet the of needs of large numbers of students with interrupted educations. Because of its successes, SYHS is an AVID Demonstration School. (2013)

Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School

McKinney, TX
Mitchell Curry, Principal

Collaborative leadership is a key area at Scott Morgan Johnson Middle School, a rural 6–8 school of 940. The presence of professional learning communities and numerous other methods of receiving community input demonstrate the school’s dedication to this philosophy. The school upholds the value of promoting effective academic education through relationships, and the personalization of student progress monitoring, goal setting, and action planning is a priority. The expectation that all students can learn at a high level is evident and a significant reason behind the ongoing academic success of the students. (2013)

Sleepy Hollow High School

Sleepy Hollow, NY
Tracy Smith, Principal

Strong partnerships provide opportunities for staff and students to excel at this 850-student suburban high school where half of the students are economically disadvantaged. Partnership programs range from science research projects to transition courses designed to encourage dual enrollment at Westchester Community College. Collaborative professional development has supported gap-reduction efforts that have led to greater student achievement, while collaborative school management has led to the design of strategies that foster increased personal, not digital, interactions both in and out of the classroom. (2014)

Southmoreland Middle School

Scottdale, PA
Vincent Mascia, Principal

Southmoreland Middle School has shown that working collaboratively in the development of curriculum and instruction, and stepping up the focus on struggling learners will result in demonstrated improvement in the growth and achievement of students. In this rural school of 435 in grades 6–8, integration of technology and the preparation of students for the rigors of high school and beyond have played major roles in improved achievement. Staff believe that their willingness and ability to adapt in order to provide students with the best foundation was fundamental to finding success. (2013)

The Preuss School UCSD

La Jolla, CA
Scott Barton, Principal

The overall vision of this combination middle/high school (6–12) is to transform the lives of the students by preparing them to qualify for state university admission. One hundred percent of the students are from economically-disadvantaged homes, a group traditionally underrepresented in colleges, so the school provides a strong foundation of cross-curriculum liberal arts, a school-wide emphasis on literacy, and a college-going culture of high expectations. The high rate of success is attributed to weekly staff development, personalized instruction, intensive tutoring, and strategic use of the university as a resource. (2012)

Trenton High School

Trenton, MO
Ron Franklin, Principal

A personalized and collaborative school environment is a core value of the staff and community at this small, rural high school. To support this belief, content-based professional learning communities with common planning time focus on expectations and outcomes for learning. The groups systematically share findings and recommendations with each other through a schoolwide shared leadership process guided by the building leadership team. All initiatives start small and face staff evaluation prior to full implementation. Staff and community attribute the school’s sustained success to this highly collaborative culture. (2013)

Wade Hampton High School

Greenville, SC
Eric Williams, Principal

Personalization is the binding factor in the school culture at this 9–12 urban school of over 1,700. To ensure that students are prepared to enter and succeed in college or careers, teachers collaborate in professional learning communities; Freshman Academy encourages focus on responsibility and perseverance for ninth graders; and a school-wide character-building program, led by faculty advisors, educates and inspires students to be productive citizens. These efforts were rewarded as the school was named a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School. (2012)

William Smith High School

Aurora, CO
David Roll, Principal

William Smith High School is a school of choice within its suburban Denver school system. Almost two-thirds of the students are from economically disadvantaged homes where English is a second language. The school is designed around project and Crew teams. Instructional project teams follow the model of expeditionary learning, delivering the curriculum via cross-curricular projects. Crew teams are the cross-grade advisories that give older students the time to mentor younger students. These academic and social supports have resulted in 90 percent of seniors participating in the state’s dual-enrollment program. (2014)

Woodbridge Middle School

Woodbridge, VA
Angela Owens, Principal

Woodbridge Middle School is a 1,370-student suburban middle school with large numbers of economically-disadvantaged and special needs students. Significant literacy needs are addressed by ongoing, targeted professional development for teachers coupled with additional instructional time for students, including twice-weekly, after-school tutorials. This approach has allowed the school to maintain a high level of student performance. Parent engagement through student-led conferences has been another factor in the school’s success. As a result, the staff created a handbook for student-led conferences that is being used by the entire district. (2012)

Worcester Technical High School

Worcester, MA
Kyle Brenner, Principal

An urban school of 1,400, Worcester Technical High School (9–12) has set the standard for other technical schools through the implementation of a best-practices philosophy. While maintaining a strong link with its 23 highly-regarded technical programs, an emphasis on academic rigor has resulted in doubling the number of honors classes and the addition of ten Advanced Placement classes. With a graduation rate of over 98 percent, test scores well above state averages, and a low dropout rate, WTHS continues to serve, nationwide, as a model technical high school. (2011)