Boston School Turns Around With Focus on the Arts

First Graders

Orchard Gardens (MA) first graders recite a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech during a school assembly earlier this week.

“I have a dream!” Orchard Gardens’ first graders shouted in unison before hundreds who had gathered for a school assembly earlier this week. Line by line, the students recited the entire ending of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech. The performance created a palpable energy in the room, and when the students finished, the audience—which included students, parents, teachers, state and local officials and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—rose to its feet for a standing ovation.

Orchard Gardens is a K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass., which has undergone a dramatic transformation. When it opened in 2003, the school was designated as one of the lowest performing schools in the state. In 2009, the school became part of the Boston Public Schools’ Arts Expansion Initiative, and received a federal School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2012, Orchard Gardens became a Turnaround Arts Initiative school, through the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Classroom Visit

Secretary Duncan visits a classroom at Orchard Gardens K-8 school in Roxbury, Mass.

Since 2009, students’ math proficiency scores have improved from six percent to 34 percent. English scores improved from 13 percent to 43 percent proficiency, from 2009 to 2013. Orchard Gardens provides student-specific interventions, coordinated by two full-time school site coordinators. Through community partnerships, students receive health and social services supports.

During Secretary Duncan’s visit he stopped by band class for an impromptu mini concert. One of the students told Duncan that playing the French horn makes him want to come to school each day. Following the assembly, Duncan toured several classrooms and participated in a roundtable discussion with educators and members of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities to discuss the importance of arts education.

Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet, and a Turnaround Artist for the Turnaround Arts Initiative, spoke about the importance of arts education during the day’s assembly. “It’s not how we can fit the arts in,” he said, “[but] how the arts can be part of a whole education.”

Secretary Duncan told the students and faculty that the eyes of the country are on them and they’re showing the country what’s possible.

Learn more about the Turnaround Arts Initiative.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education 

Baltimore High School Beats Odds with Help of SIG Program

The odds were stacked against Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School.

Partners in Progress LogoThe nation’s second oldest historically integrated public high school faced a steep dropout rate, scores of students repeating multiple grades and dismal test scores. But with the help of a $4.2 million federal School Improvement Grant (SIG), the 900-student school has cut that dropout rate in half and seen test scores rise dramatically since 2011.

Dr. Antonio Hurt, who took the helm at Douglass during the first year of the school’s SIG program, opened a night school where students can get tutoring or take credit recovery classes so they can graduate on time. He expanded a recording and media production studio and began a law program where career and technical students can train. He created a dual enrollment program where his high school students earn college credit at nearby Baltimore City Community College. Hurt removed more than half the school’s staff in the first year and hired staff focused on creating a college-going culture for every student.

Students at DouglassHurt split the school into two academies: the Academy of Innovation where students develop the courage and intellectual habits to be creative, and the Academy for Global Leadership and Public Policy, designed to graduate future leaders of government, industry and communities.

“We dug into the data. We wanted to make certain we had programs to meet the entire population of kids,” Hurt said.

After the first year of turnaround efforts, the school increased proficiency rates in English language arts from 41 percent in 2011 to 53 percent in 2012. Math proficiency rates rose from 32 percent to 44 percent. While there’s still plenty of work to be done, Hurt says the school’s 2013 numbers are promising, too.

The SIG program is a key component of the Department’s strategy for helping states and districts turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. Under the Obama Administration, more than 1,500 schools like Douglass have implemented comprehensive turnaround interventions aimed at drastically improving achievement. Despite difficult learning environments, SIG schools have increased proficiency rates in math and reading since 2009, demonstrating the importance of targeted investments over time.

Dorie Turner Nolt is press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Youth Succeed with Great Educators, Help from ED

Think back to that moment when you decided to pursue your dream. Who influenced your decision? A mentor? A parent? Or maybe a friend? For many people, their moment was sparked by an educator.

Earlier this month, the Department of Education (ED) welcomed four individuals to participate in an ‘ED Youth Voices’ panel discussion that introduced students, teachers, and communities to the policies and programs that the four youth credit with helping them succeed.

Let us introduce you to these inspiring individuals:

Student speaking

Linda Moktoi, senior at Trinity Washington University

Meet Linda Moktoi. As a current senior at Trinity Washington University, Moktoi is proud to say she’ll be achieving her dream of graduating college in just a few short weeks.  “I chose to pursue knowledge over ignorance,” she said. Moktoi did so with the financial support provided by Pell Grants from ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Moktoi’s grace, confidence, and determination shined through and will no doubt lead her to succeeding her next dream of becoming a news broadcaster.



Student speaking about GEAR UP program

Nicholas Robinson, junior at Potomac High School

Meet Nicholas Robinson. An enthusiastic junior at Potomac High School (Oxon Hill, Md.), spoke of how the early awareness college prep program GEAR UP, changed his “mind & heart” in 8th grade about whether to go to college. “Before I got involved in GEAR UP, I didn’t think I was going to college, but they were always asking me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be.” That extra support and guidance has helped Nicholas stay on track to graduate and focus on his future goals.


Educator speaking about IDEA Act

Scott Wilburn, teacher at Pulley Career Center

Meet Scott Wilbur. As a current teacher and former student that struggled with learning disabilities, Wilbur shed light on how programs funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) helped him as a student and continues to help him serve others with disabilities as a teacher at the Pulley Career Center in Alexandria, Va. “IDEA provided me with access to support, helped me graduate college,” Wilbur said. Each year the IDEA Act helps thousands of students with disabilities receive support to assure success in the classroom and that they have the tools needed for employment and independent living in the future.

Student speaking about School Improvement Grants

Carl Mitchell, senior at Frederick Douglass High School

Meet Carl Mitchell. Carl is just one of the many students that have benefited from the recent changes at Frederick Douglass High School spurred in part by an ED School Improvement Grant (SIG) which has helped turnaround their school and provide a better learning environment for students. Mitchell, a bright college bound senior who also doubles as the school mascot (Go Mighty Ducks!), attested to the sense of community that is fostered at Frederick Douglass. When asked what motivates him, he responded by saying “It’s not just about getting the degree for me, it’s for all the people that helped me. I owe them and don’t want to let them down.” An aspiring graphic designer, Mitchell will be the first in his family to attend college. His support team, including his principal, teachers, and peers joined him at ED as he proudly represented the Douglass community.

Linda, Nicholas, Scott, and Carl are just four of the millions of students and educators that are able to achieve their dreams with the help of great educators and federal programs from the Department of Education. Little do these individuals know though, that by sharing their story they are following in the footsteps of those who inspired them, and are inspiring us.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Our next ED Youth Voices Policy Briefing Session will include students reforming education at the local level: teacher evaluations, DREAM act, school safety and more. Watch the session live on June 27th from 10-11:30am at 

Texas Turnaround Becomes a Model for Success

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan has said that we cannot rest until all schools are schools we would be proud to send our own children.  Unfortunately, for too many schools across our country, this imperative is not yet a reality.

However, in schools like Lee High School in Houston, TX, things are beginning to change dramatically.  As you will see in this video about the improvement story at Lee, too many parents were “scared” to send their children to school.  Too many students said things like, “I never thought I would actually go to college.”

Now, as one of over 1400 schools implementing a school turnaround model as part of ED’s revamped School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, Lee has used almost $6 million over the past three years to extend learning time for students, build a supportive college-going culture, and continuously improve instruction with a focus on enhanced achievement for all students.

In Houston’s unique Apollo 20 school turnaround model, schools also provide high-intensity, targeted support in key subjects from highly-trained and committed tutors.  The same is true of 19 other previously low-performing schools across the city that have partnered with Professor Roland Fryer and a team of researchers from Harvard University to implement and rigorously evaluate a series of specific turnaround interventions.

As I walked through the halls of Lee High with the Secretary during a visit this past February, it was hard to believe that only three years ago, students and parents had voiced serious concerns about the school’s safety and low expectations.  In the same classrooms where fights had once been regular occurrences, teachers and staff were collaborating to help students improve academically, and students were committed to reaching their dreams of college and beyond.

The results at Lee are beginning to speak for themselves: daily attendance has reached the school’s goal of 95% on average and the dropout rate has fallen by more than half (from 14% to 6%).

What is promising is that Lee is not alone. Across the country, many SIG recipients are beginning to see encouraging progress and we are beginning to notice some common threads among schools that are turning around:

  1. A strong, dynamic principal with a clearly articulated vision for a school that is designed for success;
  2. A talented staff who shares the vision and has a commitment to collaborate on the critical and complex work associated with improving instruction for all students;
  3. Ongoing use of reliable data to make informed decisions about instructional improvement and student support;
  4. Community and family engagement strategies that treat these important stakeholders as accelerators of achievement rather than as barriers.

In order to sustain these positive changes, schools and districts are partnering with local community organizations, non-profits, and businesses to continue the momentum and critical resources necessary for sustained improvement.  In Houston, for example, local philanthropic leaders have provided $17 million to support the Apollo 20 school turnaround efforts.

Because of the incredibly inspiring work of leaders, teachers, parents, and students at schools like Lee High, more parents like Jessica Broadnax can say, “A child just definitely cannot fail in this place, they just can’t!”  What we offer to our children tells them what it is we value.  When we provide support for students and we offer them hope for a brighter future, we tell them that we value them and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Deb Delisle is the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Sitting Higher Upon Camelback

As with any good school, it’s all about the students. At Imagine Elementary at Camelback in Phoenix, Marcos, a 7th-grader, says, “Being in this school really helped me out with my future . . . becoming a better student, becoming a better me.”

If you said that Imagine Elementary has made progress because of its School Improvement Grant (SIG) from the U.S. Department of Education, you would be right. You’d also be making a major understatement – kind of like saying that Phoenix’s July sunshine is warm. It’s true, but it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

Imagine Elementary at Camelback teachers Ivan Panchenko (left) and Ben Abel join Principal Freddie Villalon (right) and three 7th-graders inside the school’s main entrance.

Imagine Elementary at Camelback teachers Ivan Panchenko (left) and Ben Abel join Principal Freddie Villalon (right) and three 7th-graders inside the school’s main entrance.

In November 2010, Imagine Elementary’s new Principal Freddie Villalon arrived. “When I walked in,” Villalon recalls, “only 10 percent of the kids in the 3rd grade had passed the test in reading. We were identified as a failing school, one of the 15 most challenging schools in Arizona. We were looking at being closed down.”

But fall 2010 was also when SIG money from the U.S. Department of Education arrived through the Arizona Department of Education, which awarded Imagine Elementary at Camelback $2.3 million to turn around over the next three years.

Principal Villalon’s strategy was to add rigor to the curriculum while giving positive reinforcement to teachers and to students. Now half-way through the SIG timeframe, the school has a new academic culture – one of high expectations by school leadership, faculty, support staff, community, parents and, perhaps most of all, by students.

The turnaround gained momentum when Villalon noticed that a 3rd-grade reading teacher, Chandni Varma, raised her class’s performance so that 52 percent of her students met the reading standards. The principal took action. “We asked Mrs. Varma, ‘How did you go from 10 percent to 52 percent?’” Varma described her approach as one that included the art of teaching with the creative application of a commercial reading product. Villalon shared the results with other teachers and highlighted the success, demonstrating that Imagine students are capable of success.

Teachers throughout the school responded to the new culture of rewarding success in the classroom. “We highlighted those teachers that did well, we reinforced them with some bonuses, with some recognition, with some awards,” Villalon said.

Villalon is quick to point out that the success belongs to what he calls “this awesome team,” which includes his students’ parents. One strategy is to send home quarterly assessment results with certificates for students who are meeting or exceeding standards. “In our newsletters,” Villalon said, “we show bar graphs of how we did in the previous year. How we’re doing in comparison to other schools.  Every parent in my school has my personal cell phone number, so they can call me about any issue, any question.”

Angela Denning, deputy associate superintendent for school improvement and intervention for the Arizona Department of Education, worked with Principal Villalon from the start. “Before the SIG monies were awarded, there wasn’t a focus on student learning,” Denning said. “Kids would come in; kids would go out. There wasn’t pride in the school as a whole, and that came out in behaviors and test scores, and dramatic drops in attendance and participation.”

Denning believes the SIG award made the critical difference in the school’s turnaround. “Since the SIG money has been awarded, one of the biggest changes was that the charter holder itself – Imagine – came in and swarmed the school. They started to put in a support system that was absolutely necessary for students to start learning.”

The state department of education has maintained an active role from the start. “We assigned two education specialists to each one of our School Improvement Grant schools, and they came out on a regular basis, giving feedback, monitoring their progress,” Denning said.

Student Christian says that the secret to the school’s success is no secret. “It’s the hard work and dedication that the teachers put into it.”

Perhaps the most heartfelt assessment of the Imagine at Camelback success story came from Denning. “This elementary school cares about children, and they care about student learning,” Denning said. “If I had children, they’d go here.”

Editor’s note: Angela Denning has begun a new assignment as deputy associate superintendent for exceptional student services for the Arizona Department of Education.

Joe Barison is the Director of Communications and Outreach for ED’s San Francisco Regional Office. 

Duncan Kicks Off “Let’s Read! Let’s Move!”

Secretary Duncan talks with students at Vashon High in St. Louis

Secretary Duncan visited students at Vashon High School in St. Louis to kick off Lets Read! Let's Move! Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Secretary Duncan kicked off this summer’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series yesterday at Vashon High School in St. Louis. The program, which supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight childhood obesity, promotes summer learning and reading, as well as healthy lifestyle choices and nutrition. Duncan joined students in a summer school reading exercise, toured classrooms, and shot hoops with students in the school gym.

Secretary Duncan plays basketball at Vashon High

Duncan stopped to shoot some hoops with Vashon students. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

Vashon High School is one of eleven schools in the St. Louis Public Schools undergoing a turnaround with the support of the Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Vashon High School will enter its third year of turnaround this fall, and under Principal Derrick Mitchell, the school has made some encouraging progress. Once on the brink of closure, Vashon’s discipline incidents are down, attendance is up, and from 2009-10 to 2010-11, student achievement increased by 15 percentage points in both reading and math.

Other SIG schools in the St. Louis Public School district are also making noteworthy progress on these key indicators of success. The district has implemented an Office of Innovation to oversee turnaround work in its SIG schools and to provide professional development, leadership training, data tools, and other resources where they are needed most.

Click here to read more SIG stories from around the country, and click here to read about last year’s Let’s Read! Let’s Move! series which included local officials, celebrities and area elementary students. ED’s next Let’s Read! Let’s Move! event will be in early July in Washington.

Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

School Sees ‘Turnaround’ Progress in Just Two Years

Those questioning whether a school can dramatically turn around should look no further than Emerson Elementary School in the Argentine community of Kansas City, Kan. The school recently opened its doors to a group of local, state, and federal education officials, including Jason Snyder, deputy assistant secretary for policy and the head of ED’s Office of School Turnaround.

Following a tour of the school and conversations with school leadership, teachers, and students, Snyder said: “Our goal here is to understand what’s working and share that success with other schools across the country. The progress at Emerson is very encouraging.”

Just three years ago, Emerson was identified as the lowest-performing school in Kansas and was awarded a grant through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program to implement one of four turnaround models. At Emerson, where 90% of the students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunches, over 43 percent of its students were performing in the academic warning area in math and 45 percent in the warning area in reading (compared to the state average of six percent in both subjects).

Jason Snyder visiting Emerson

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder visits Emerson Elementary in Kansas City, Kan.

Enter new principal Brett Bernard, a revamped staff, and a strong vision focused on student achievement. The school today is barely recognizable from where it was two years ago when the SIG program was first implemented. Students are engaged in meaningful instruction because of the school’s new focus on literacy instruction, data-based classroom decisions, and increased learning time connected closely to the school’s curriculum.  Moreover, thanks to robust outreach efforts by a new parent-community specialist, the community is engaged in the turnaround efforts.

But the sweeping change wasn’t without its challenges – especially early in the process.  After learning that their school was the lowest-performing in Kansas, Emerson’s teachers felt a wide range of emotions: from anger and embarrassment to uncertainty and fear. Bernard worked to convince them that they were up for the job through positive reinforcement and a can-do/no-excuses attitude. Bernard said he realized that if true change were to happen, “it had to come from within them – and from within the PLCs (Professional Learning Communities).”

Through the turnaround process, test scores have risen dramatically: newly released 2012 scores show that barely two percent of Emerson students are now in the warning area in reading.  Just as telling: enrollment has increased from 130 students to 195 students in two years, as word of the dramatic improvements has spread across the local community.

Norma Cregan, of the Kansas Department of Education, who toured Emerson along with other education officials, noted that she had witnessed a “remarkable change” since her first visit to the school in 2010. It is a change that she continues to observe in other SIG schools throughout the state.  “What we see in all our SIG schools is strong leadership and strong growth,” she said.

Superintendent Lane expressed her appreciation for the additional resources provided through the SIG grant process. “We know what works to turn around struggling schools,” Superintendent Cynthia Lane said, “and Emerson demonstrates that, with support, districts can assist struggling schools to achieve at high levels.”

Ultimately, it is schools like Emerson that serve as models for other struggling schools across the country.  “It’s encouraging to see courageous leaders, like those at Emerson, improve outcomes of students and share their strong work with others,” said Snyder.

–Patrick Kerr is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Regional Office in Kansas City

Leaders and Teachers ‘Go the Extra Mile’ to Transform Milwaukee’s Hamilton High

“Turning around schools is one of the toughest, and important, challenges we face in education,” said Jason Snyder, a deputy assistant secretary from ED, as he toured Milwaukee Public Schools’ Alexander Hamilton High School in May.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder discusses the transformation of Milwaukee Public Schools' Alexander Hamilton High School.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder discusses the transformation of Milwaukee Public Schools’ Alexander Hamilton High School with some of its students.

The school is in the midst of a transformation supported by a $750,000 federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) that began at the beginning of the school year.  The SIG has funded multiple programs to improve academic outcomes for Hamilton’s diverse, 2,000-plus student population. The projects have included an extended school day learning opportunities, professional development for educators, literacy coaching for teachers, and teachers who specialize in assisting students who are struggling with reading and math.

Hamilton also has a new leader. Principal Rosana Mateo has focused her firstyear focus on building stronger relationships with students, staff, parents and community organizations.

“Leadership is about relationships. If you don’t have strong relationships, you don’t have anything,” she said.

The early results are promising. Over the past year, proficiency for Hamilton’s 10th graders increased by nearly 16 percentage points in reading and 9 percentage points in math. Student attendance has increased, and suspensions have decreased. While Snyder agreed with Mateo’s assessment of the turnaround effort as a “work in progress,” he noted that “this is never easy work – especially in large, comprehensive high schools like Hamilton.”

“With courageous leadership and strong collaboration among staff, Hamilton is making a real difference in the lives of its students,” Snyder said. “What I heard from students is that they are more engaged and are being given an opportunity to succeed.”

For example, one of the benefits of Hamilton’s large size has long been its substantial Advanced Placement offerings, which enable high school students to learn college-level material and possibly earn college credits. Among Milwaukee schools, Hamilton has the 2nd highest number of students taking AP classes. Through SIG funding, AP students now have the opportunity to get extra support at school to succeed in those rigorous classes.

Violeta Curiel, a Hamilton senior, credited teachers for helping to inspire student growth over the past year. “They go the extra mile. They’re here on Saturdays, mornings and after school when we need extra help. They care about us, and it makes us really care about school.”

Visit Milwaukee Public Schools’ website for more information and to see more photos.

–Julie Ewart is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Chicago Regional Office. 

Oklahoma City Turnaround School is Doing More Than Just OK

Crutcho Elementary School sits on a flood plain near Oklahoma City. One could say its location is a metaphor for the school’s challenges. Just as the school is at risk of flooding, its students are susceptible to the generational poverty that surrounds it.

PencilsThe Oklahoma Department of Education has identified Crutcho as a persistently underperforming school. But when one walks through Crutcho’s halls these days, the attitude is not resignation or complacency, but one of hope and renewal.

“Whatever it takes. No excuses. No exceptions.” These are the school staff’s mottos.

According to Principal Robert Killian and Superintendent Teresa McAfee, everyone understood the importance of receiving the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant (SIG).

“The SIG grant gave us an opportunity to establish a relationship with the state that we never had before,” McAfee said.

Crutcho received $973,000 from ED in the 2010-2011 school year, under the SIG transformation model. Since that time, reading and math scores have reached the state median, a huge improvement over results in years past.

The SIG grant has allowed for longer school days, extending learning time to seven and a half hours a day, which in one school year is the equivalent of 206 days of learning compared to the typical 175. The summer school program was extended to five and a half hours a day for six weeks instead of four hours a day for four weeks. Additional reforms include a new schedule that provides more collaboration time for students in grades 3 through 8 who need additional help in certain subject areas.

The reforms also introduced advanced technology to the school. Students have laptops, and there are cameras in every classroom to create video archives of instruction for the teachers’ professional development. Smart boards were added to every classroom so teachers could access the Internet as well as promote interaction, and a data and technology integration coach was brought in to assist teachers in using technology as part of the curriculum.

The school’s change in morale is palpable.

“Kids are starting to believe in themselves,” said School Librarian Donna Rupert.

In addition to the grant, the school has partnered with the local community to help meet the students’ needs, as well as their families’. Wal-Mart helps provide school supplies for the classrooms and a local church gives birthday cakes to every child throughout the year, as well as holiday presents for more than a third of the students.

As a result of these major improvements, more people want their children to attend Crutcho, explained Principal Killian.

“We have seen tremendous growth,” he said.

Click here to read more about turnaround success.

Natalie Torentinos is a graduate student at The George Washington University and an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

The Hard Work of School Turnarounds—When a Struggling School Becomes a Place Where Students Want to Be

Hammond High School junior Katherine Lopez has seen a big change in teachers’ attitudes since her freshman year at the northwest Indiana school in 2009/10.

“Teachers seem much more involved with students and with what they’re teaching,” she said. “If they love what they’re doing, then we care too.”

When Lopez first arrived at Hammond High, she and other students felt that too many students and teachers were apathetic about education. That apathy contributed to chronically low student achievement and graduation rates at their school, located in the small “Rust Belt” city of Hammond, just east of Chicago.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder joins a freshman English class to hear student presentations during his March 23 visit to Hammond High School in Hammond, Ind.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Snyder joins a freshman English class to hear student presentations during his March 23 visit to Hammond High School in Hammond, Ind.

Those indicators of poor performance are now beginning to reverse—thanks in part to a double dose of help from the U.S. Department of Education in the form of School Improvement Grant and Teacher Incentive Fund  grants, both awarded in 2010.  I had the opportunity to join Jason Snyder, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education to learn firsthand about the school’s progress during a March 23 visit to the school. The day included chats with state and district administrators, Hammond High teachers and students, as well as classroom visits.

“Our goal here is to learn what’s working and to share those lessons across the country,” said Snyder. “Turnaround is really hard work–and it can’t be done alone.”

What’s changed at Hammond High? It has a dynamic new principal, Leslie Yanders, who was given autonomy to replace more than half of the teachers. The school has new social workers and family liaisons to help support both students and parents in their efforts to overcome social, emotional, and health barriers to academic success. More than 80 percent of students come from low-income families at Hammond High, and families frequently move in and out of the community, adding to the academic challenges of the classroom.

Hammond High instituted another pivotal change, extending the school day by a full hour, enabling students to accelerate learning and get additional instructional support. With the support of the SIG and TIF grants, and under the leadership of Principal Yanders and veteran teachers at the school, teachers now get additional time for collaboration and training, and they have new opportunities for professional growth and performance-based pay.

As part of the more than $70 million that the Indiana Department of Education received from ED in 2010 and 2011 for SIG, Hammond was awarded nearly $6 million with the agreement to make dramatic changes over the course of three years. The school chose to implement the turnaround model, one of four intervention models for SIG grantees. To date, ED has awarded more than $4 billion through the SIG program to help accelerate academic achievement in over 1,200 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Hammond High is also one of 44 Indiana schools participating in the $47 million TIF grant awarded by ED to the state in 2010.  The Teacher Incentive Fund, a five-year federal grant program, supports the development and implementation of performance-based pay systems.

Even though the SIG and TIF grants require teachers to invest more time in their jobs, Hammond teachers see it as a worthwhile effort. “At first, we didn’t want to give up our Saturdays [for professional development], but we all went into it with a common goal of improving attendance and graduation rates,” said Conja Halliburton, chair of Hammond’s special education department.

The early results of that hard work are encouraging.   The school’s graduation rate—just 62.5 percent in 2010—climbed to 74 percent last year.   Attendance has grown to nearly 95 percent—a two percent increase from the previous year.   The percentage of students passing Indiana’s end-of-course assessments in English and Algebra has more than doubled in one year, to nearly 40 percent.  Discipline problems have been reduced by nearly a third.

Hammond administrators recognize that there is still much work to be done to ensure that the short-term improvement under the grants will be sustained for the long haul. Yanders and district administrators are already thinking about how to further propel the school’s progress after the SIG and TIF grants’ funding ends.

“In the end, our teachers will still know what effective instruction is all about,” said Jana Abshire, district turnaround officer.

Snyder agreed that the progress occurring at Hammond High and other SIG schools across the U.S. is not about funding alone. “It’s about transforming schools into places that students and teachers want to be,” he said. Changing school culture is hard work—but the principal, teachers, and students of Hammond High are showing it can be done, working together. Just ask Katherine Lopez.

Julie Ewart is the communications director in ED’s Chicago Regional Office

School Turnarounds Are Succeeding

Secretary Duncan at the Grad Nation Summit

Portland, Ore., Public Schools Superintendent, Carole Smith, DC Public School teacher Mrs. Rose Smith, and DC Public Schools student Daquan Burley join Arne for a panel at the Grad Nation Summit. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

America cannot keep the promise a quality education to every child without ending the cycle of failure in our chronically low-performing schools.

From the early days of the Obama Administration, the President and Secretary Duncan explained that the country could not continue the status quo, with the idea that some schools are merely destined to fail.

“We could not continue to tinker,” Duncan explained earlier today at the Building a Grad Nation Summit in Washington. “[The President] and I believe that dramatic change is needed in low-performing schools.”

The President and Duncan worked with Congress in 2009 to make an unprecedented investment in turning around low-performing schools.

Through ED’s School Improvement Grants (SIG), the Administration dedicated more than $4 billion dollars, that has reached over 1,200 schools. The goal of SIG is to accelerate achievement in our nation’s lowest-performing five percent of schools. The federal grants from ED are just one element in addressing a challenge that requires input and support from school leaders, teachers, unions, and local partners in the community.

Secretary Duncan announced this morning that the preliminary SIG data shows that the program is producing impressive gains in learning.

In year one under the new SIG:

    • Nearly one in four schools saw double digit increases in math proficiency.
    • Roughly one in five schools had double-digit increases in reading proficiency.
    • In nearly 60 percent of SIG schools, the percent of students who were proficient in math or reading went up in the first year.

Duncan noted that the positive results are from the first year of data, and that it will take several years of data to confirm that SIG is making a lasting improvement in academic achievement.

“At the heart of all these successes,” Duncan explained, “are teachers and school leaders who are excited about the prospect of change.” Before joining a panel at the Summit, Duncan closed by reminded those in attendance that, “Children only get one chance at an education,” and that there isn’t time to wait for reform to happen.

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