Hawaii Zones of School Innovation Committed to Improvement

Four students pose for a photo, holding vegetables they have picked as part of an agriculture project with Makaha Farms.

Hawaii created two Zones of School Innovation to support regions with many of the state’s lowest performing schools. Schools in these zones benefit from greater flexibility and from state investments in curriculum, professional development, technology, teacher recruitment, and wraparound services such as medical care and nutrition education. Photo credit: Hawaii Department of Education

Investing in teachers, time, services and technology to close achievement gaps

Bem is a ninth-grade student who lives with his parents, cousins and grandparents, migrants from the Marshall Islands, in a sparsely populated area of the island of Hawaii, 25 miles away from Kau High School. There are many obstacles Bem faces on a daily basis to receive an education. Just getting to school regularly is a challenge, as it is for many other students in this largely rural part of the State.

But, lately, Bem has been attending school more regularly and has become more engaged in his school work. He even says he wants to get involved in student government. “He’s been coming to school every day, he’s more serious about his studies and he knows that learning is going to take hard work,” said Kau High and Pahala Elementary Principal Sharon Beck.

A comprehensive set of policies and services put in place over the past few years across the sprawling Kau–Keaau–Pahoa Complex Area of schools is starting to make a difference. Unlike every other State, Hawaii has a single, statewide school system. Complex areas function like school districts in other States. In its successful application for a Federal Race to the Top grant, Hawaii said it would make two complexes—Kau–Keaau–Pahoa on the island of Hawaii and Nanakuli–Waianae on the island of Oahu—Zones of School Innovation (ZSIs) because they each had several schools that were among the lowest performing in the State.

That meant additional flexibilities and investments for ZSI schools including:  more instructional time during the school year as well as in the summer; financial incentives to attract effective teachers and leaders to remote schools; a common curriculum; intensive support for early-career as well as experienced teachers; an infusion of technology to expand students’ understanding of the world; giving principals more control over hiring decisions; and arranging for medical care, mental health counseling, nutrition education and other services.

These enormous changes have led to evidence of progress. Eight of the 18 schools in the zones identified as low-performing four years ago have now met performance targets and, in more than half, student growth is outpacing State averages in both reading and mathematics. Statewide, Hawaii public schools have narrowed the achievement gap by 12 percent, and on-time graduation has increased by seven percent.

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Parent and Community Engagement is Key Driver of School Transformation in Baltimore

A teacher leans over a students desk, helping him with an assignment.

As part of its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, Baltimore City Public Schools has employed a holistic parent engagement strategy to turn around struggling schools. One principal built relationships with parents and students by shaking hands before and after school each day. Teachers sent out flyers, knocked on doors, and made phone calls to parents to discuss their children’s performance. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

School turnarounds require changes in school culture and strong relationships with parents

Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School is located in an impoverished neighborhood of East Baltimore that struggles with high rates of gang violence and teen pregnancy. Ninety-five percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and many are three or more grade levels behind in reading when they enter. The school floundered academically for years. In 2010, based on its test scores, Commodore ranked 872 out of 875 schools in Maryland. It enrolled only 225 students, half of the building’s capacity. Four principals had come and gone during the previous five years.

In the past four years, however, the school’s results have improved measurably. Enrollment more than doubled, chronic absences dropped significantly, and the percentage of students proficient in reading and mathematics rose 20 percent. In 2012, the school’s mathematics performance exceeded the districtwide average.

Creating More High Quality School Options

How did this happen?

In 2010, Baltimore City Public Schools chose Commodore to participate in its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, an effort launched by former Superintendent Andrés Alonso to increase the number of high quality schools in the district. The city opened new schools, expanded the capacity of high-performing ones, closed the lowest performers, and began working to turn around struggling schools. During the first full year of the program, the Baltimore City school board approved eight new schools and moved to close nine low-performing ones. In addition, all high schools became schools of choice.

Commodore was among a group of persistently low-performing schools selected to be part of a districtwide turnaround initiative, which brought intensive support underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top award and School Improvement Grant. The goal: transform school culture and dramatically accelerate learning outcomes. Interventions varied by school, but included new leadership, extra support staff, a longer learning day, new technology, more staff mentoring, and professional development for teachers.

Parent Engagement a Top Priority

Marc Martin, a seasoned school leader with a strong track record of success, became Commodore’s new principal. In addition to hiring new staff and renovating the building, Martin made parent engagement a top priority. He set out to get to know each parent personally, to build trust and hope. “I literally slept here during the summer before the school opened,” he said. “We sent out flyers, made phone calls and knocked on doors to let families know we were here.”

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Effective and Sustainable Turnaround in Rural Kentucky

Local professionals talk with high school students. They are seated at round tables in the high school library.

Leslie County High School has pioneered Operation Preparation, which brings in local professionals to discuss possible career paths and help students prepare for adult life. Photo credit: Kevin Gay

Three months after accepting the role of principal at Leslie County High School (LCHS) in rural Hayden, Ky., Kevin Gay was informed that his school was failing. Identified as persistently low achieving by the state department of education, LCHS was ranked in the bottom 10 percent of all high schools in Kentucky.

That was in 2010.

Today, following a concerted effort to turn around the struggling high school, LCHS is ranked in the top 10 percent of high schools in the state. The school also boasts a 99 percent graduation rate and a renewed emphasis on ensuring that students are college-and career-ready.

The school’s rapid rise is a special point of pride for this rural community of 11,000 residents and about 500 students.  Poverty is a real issue here. The Kentucky Division of Nutrition and Health Services estimates that at least 69 percent of the students at Leslie County High School receive free or reduced lunches. And, in this sparsely-populated area, many students travel about 30 miles to reach the mountainous region where their high school stands.

Yet despite these challenges, in four school years Leslie County High School went from being ranked 224 out of 230 high schools – to being ranked 16th overall in Kentucky.

While each school turnaround story is unique, successful turnaround efforts like the one at Leslie County High School are emerging across the country. Students are achieving new levels of success in places like Alchesay High School in Arizona’s White Mountain Apache Reservation; Emerson Elementary in Kansas City; and Orchard Gardens in Roxbury, Mass. In these places, school leaders have used federal funding from the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program at the U.S. Department of Education to kick-start much needed change in historically low-performing schools.

Thanks in large part to successful partnerships and an attitude of shared responsibility, Leslie County High School has built a new foundation for success in this rural Kentucky town.

How did they achieve such powerful results in such a short time?

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Ohio’s New School Models Spur Innovation

Five students crowd around two laptops to prepare a presentation.

Students prepare to make presentations about endangered species. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Aunay, a junior at Winton Woods High School outside of Cincinnati, is figuring out what she can do to combat the problem of child labor around the world for a school project.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Yasmine, who is a junior at Lincoln West High School, is arguing on behalf of Sierra Leone, the African country her group chose to represent in Model United Nations debates.

In a suburb outside of Cleveland, students at Brooklyn Middle School are learning skills for college success in study groups and juniors at Brooklyn High School are taking honors classes and visiting prospective colleges.

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work together on a math project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work on a mathematics project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

The schools that these students attend all have won State grants over the past two years, enabling them to remake themselves by adopting one of five innovative school redesign models endorsed by the State.  These transformations were set in motion by the State’s Race to the Top program. One of Race to the Top’s primary goals is to increase college- and career-readiness, and all of these models have track records in that regard.

This graphic displays the unique elements and national results of five models implemented in Ohio to increase achievement and graduation rates: AVID, Asia Society, New Tech Network, Ohio STEM Learning Network, and Early College High School Initiative. The unique elements of AVID are: rigorous course-taking (at least one AP or other advance course each year); required college-level AVID course to boost reading, writing and inquiry skills; and academic and social support (tutoring by college student role models). The national results of AVID are: Latino and African American graduates enroll in postsecondary education at higher rates than national average, Latino students take AP exams at five times the national rate for all students, and 89 percent of AVID students who go on to post-secondary education are still enrolled two years later. The unique elements of Asia Society are: international content integrated with all subjects, technology to support instruction and connect students to schools around the world, and international travel and exchanges. The national results of Asia Society are: schools in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network outperform their peers in all core subject areas and across all grade levels in 85 percent of all cases, according to a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The unique elements of New Tech Network are: project-based learning (students collaborate on projects requiring critical thinking, creativity and communication); authentic assessment (students are assessed on ability to solve real-world problems using content knowledge); and technology to foster collaborative learning. The national results of New Tech Network are: high school graduation rate of 6 percent above the national average, college enrollment rate of 9 percent above the national average, college persistence in 4-year colleges 17 percent above the national average, and college persistence in 2-year colleges 46 percent above the national average. The unique elements of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: subjects integrated to emphasize connections across disciplines; investigation and problem solving tasks emphasize analysis and creativity; and classroom learning connected to real world through internships, mentoring, and other opportunities. The national results of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: graduates of selective schools (defined as those that enroll small numbers of highly motivated students with demonstrated talent and interest in STEM areas) are nearly 50 percent more likely to major in STEM, and graduates of selective schools are 20 percent more likely to earn a STEM-related postsecondary degree. The unique elements of Early College High School Initiative are: students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree; small learning environments that demand rigorous, college preparatory work; and extensive academic and social support provided. The national results of the Early College High School Initiative are: 77 percent of graduates pursue some form of postsecondary education, more than half earn two or more years of college credit, and graduation rate of 80 percent of schools is equal to or greater than the rate for the district as a whole.

Click for descriptions of the models. Image credit: U.S. Department of Education

That’s evident at the Academy of Global Studies, which is now part of the International Studies School Network operated by the Asia Society, a New York-based nonprofit organization. “When you go in and see the kids, they’re looking at things from different angles, they’re using technology, they know how to manage their time,” said Kevin Jones, a counselor at the school. “They’re engaged in real-world tasks; they’re pushed to think critically. We ask kids: ‘What is the global impact?’ We want them to think more deeply about these issues and become self-directed learners.”

The redesigned schools are having a broader impact on he State because they’re demonstrating what’s possible for students, said Pamela VanHorn, director of the Ohio Network for Innovation and Improvement. “Race to the Top allowed us to have many working models across the State that will give other schools an impetus to redesign their schools.”

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Better Times at Douglass High

Logo of Frederick Douglass High School featuring Frederick Douglass' face and an open book.

Image credit: The Academies at Frederick Douglass High School

Two years ago, fifteen-year-old Miquel Green put on an earnest face and prepared himself to stand the consternation of his older brother, Andrew. Miquel had decided to transfer from his current high school in Baltimore, Md., to Frederick Douglass High School, the Charm City school from which Andrew had graduated just five years before.

“He was mad,” recalls Miquel with a chuckle, yet he couldn’t fault his brother for the concern. During Andrew’s time at Frederick Douglass High, truancy, violence, and underachievement were rampant, and Andrew counted himself lucky to have graduated on time. But Miquel knew something that his brother didn’t—Frederick Douglass High had become a turnaround school.

A Storied Past and a Brighter Future

A 2008 HBO documentary, Hard Times at Douglass High, filmed in 2004-2005, declared, “America is in the midst of an educational crisis.” At the center of this struggle was a disorganized, academically dilapidated Frederick Douglass High, where less than 25 percent of students graduated and hopelessness pervaded the halls.

But the school had not always been this way.

In 1883, Frederick Douglass High, then called the Grammar School for Colored Children, opened its doors. By 1889, the institution became the first in Maryland—and only the third in the nation—to award high school diplomas to African Americans.

Born out of the “separate but equal” era, the school quickly established a reputation for educational excellence among African Americans, and built a powerful alumni base, including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, jazz entertainment legend Cab Calloway,  and “mother of the civil rights era” Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson.

But decades of financial and administrative struggles at the school and the challenges of a city dominated by urban poverty gradually disintegrated Frederick Douglass High’s academic foundation.

When the school’s current principal, Antonio Hurt, arrived from Georgia two years ago, the school was, in his words, “an education cemetery … people couldn’t take pride in our programs.”

Fast forward to today and Frederick Douglass High has reinvented itself. The entire school community has come together—the staff and students recommitting themselves to a learning environment based on the values of “pride, dignity, and excellence,” the school’s motto. The work is not yet done, but hopelessness has left the building.

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