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What Successful Schools are Doing
What Successful Schools are Doing

John R. Rogers High School
(Spokane, WA)

The graduation rate at Rogers High School rose from 60% in 2010 to 82% in 2016.  Principal Lori Wyborney intervenes to put many students into AP classes.  Spokane’s educators have latched onto an idea that might strike others as counter-intuitive: They believe they can get more students to go to college — and stay there — by making high school harder.

Spokane has eliminated all unchallenging classes.  College prep courses are now the default curriculum for all high school students, and the district has increased the number of A.P. courses it offers. Although students are required to take only 3 years each of lab science and math to earn a diploma, they are pushed to take 4 years of each — and most do.  The students know their principal is serious about making them work harder. 

“We’ve eliminated choices to the point where you really only have college-ready choices,” Wyborney said. The strategy stems from a finding of federal research that a high school’s “academic intensity” still counts more than anything else that it does to help its students go on to complete a bachelor’s degree.

In the class of 2016, 87% of graduates had taken 4 years of lab science, and nearly 90% had taken 4 years of math.  "The harder classes don’t just prepare students academically. They help students visualize themselves at college," Wyborney said. “For kids in poverty, more often than not, what they’re saying is, ‘I’m not a good student,’ ” she said. “What we have to do is convince them, ‘Well, actually, you are.’ ”

She told students the statistics for their school’s ZIP code — a nearly 30% poverty rate and a 17% unemployment rate — and explained to students how a good education can help break the cycle of poverty.  She convinces them college is an option, regardless of their family’s income. 

Studies have found that students who pass an A.P. exam do better in college...In Spokane, the district pays the test fees for students who can’t afford them. Wyborney says there are benefits even if a student fails an A.P. exam: They learn the skills they need to succeed in college, such as note-taking, time management and how to form study groups. “For us, it’s more about the skill-building than it is about the content,” Wyborney said.

Spokane is updating its entire K-12 curriculum to teach those kinds of skills. Students in its early grades will not only do more research and weekly writing, but they’ll also start to learn good studying, note-taking and organizing strategies in fourth grade.

Wyborney met with her administrative team and handed out graduation-rate statistics from around the district. Although Rogers had hit a high of 82% in 2016, her enthusiasm was restrained. “Just stats to look at, my little love bugs,” she said. “We’ve got to figure out 18% of the kids.”  In addition, Rogers still has a low number of graduates who go on to college; however that rate went from 43% in 2011 to 53% in 2015 under Principal Wyborney.

Spokane is an economically diverse city of roughly 200,000 people. Rogers High is in the city’s poorest neighborhood. About 78% of its 1,500 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to state data.
 ("A School Where Raising the Bar Lifts Hope," by Sarah Butrymowicz, The New York Times, March 9, 2017)

Bridges Elementary School in Brooklyn
(New York City Schools)

The Bridges Elementary School has adopted a dog that is part of a program in New York City schools, called Mutt-i-grees.   

Rescue animals are adopted
by 42 New York City schools, which live with a school administrator, and during the day they are embedded into school life. The dogs do everything from curbing conflict, to motivating students, to offering puppy love.  They can calm an angry child, and help students act better towards one another. 

The dogs teach kids about responsibility, empathy, and making connections. Across New York City, 95% of participating educators say the canines have reduced emotional distress among students.  The dogs Shine and Brightly possess the qualities inherent in the best social workers: warmth and unconditional love.

Play time with the dogs is used as an incentive for good behavior.

"We have some really challenging behaviors at our school, as every school does, and seeing certain students who now have individualized behavior plans, where if they meet certain goals each day, they get to come and see me and spend time with the dog, has brought a real sense of purpose to those students' days in which they spend the morning trying to earn time with the dog; and then after they spend time with the dog, they are calm and positive for the rest of the day," Principal Kevyn Bowles said. 

The curriculum was developed
by Yale University and New York's North Shore Animal League. The program was expanded to 42 New York City schools this year.

A preliminary evaluation of the program conducted by Yale University reveals that 90% of participating educators reported improved student behavior. Seventy-nine percent said the dogs increased student interest in school, and researchers are hopeful this success might one day be reflected in academic achievement.

Shine greets students in the morning, attends school assemblies, and serves as a reading buddy.  She will just snuggle up next to you on the carpet in the classroom, and you could read to her for hours.  So, they each bring a little different personality to the mix."   (How "comfort dogs" are improving behavior in New York City classrooms, CBS News, January 24, 2018)


Breaux Bridge, K-12

A school with no textbooks and no homework is sending students to top tier schools.  They have 100% graduates who get into college. 

A no frill school in a low-income area.  There are teachers, but no text books, no homework, and no specific class schedule.  They have no sports, no homecoming, and no prom.  Classmates from K to high school help each other.  Students help tutor each other, and encourage each other to learn.  They give hope and celebrate each other’s success. 

“Because you are with all these other people who are always striving towards greatness, just like you are, it’s like you have no choice but to conform to it,” said one student.  “It’s not about being smart.  It’s about working hard,” said one of the mothers. 

(source:  “Lesson in Success,” Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, CBS News, December 2017) 

Providence St. Mel School

For 29 years in a row, 100% of Providence’s Senior Class has gone to college!   Providence St. Mel School is giving children a quality education to break the cycle of poverty, fear, chaos, and racism in order to improve their lives and this country. 

"Providence St. Mel is one of the most profound educational achievements in the nation.
The school uses the entire day as a learning experience for the young people. They all end up going to college - which is unbelievable. But, they have a serious code of discipline, students come to learn..., they enter into a relationship that says – you will adhere to our practices, we will teach you, provide educational opportunities for you and you will learn."    Congressman Danny K. Davis, US House of Representatives

"I believe the experience at Providence St. Mel shows every child can learn.
 If we can replicate the achievement and changes at this one school, we could change the face of American education and America itself."   (The Honorable Roy Barnes, Former Governor of Georgia and Co-Chair, Commission on No Child Left Behind)

Cristo-Rey Jesuit High School

Every senior gets into college.   Cristo-Rey Jesuit High School is located in Chicago, giving underprivileged kids a chance they never thought they would get.

The high school collaborates with the business community.  Each student spends 4 days in the classroom, and one day working in the offices of a corporate partner.  The business partner picks up most of the $12,000 tuition/year and gets a dedicated worker in the deal.

Christ-Rey pioneered the Corporate Work Study Program model for inner-city education that has inspired a national network of 28 schools serving low-income communities throughout the country.   (Lesson in Success, Dean Reynolds, CBS News, June 12, 2014)  (also profiled on 60 Minutes)

XQ: The Super School Project

The Washington Leadership Academy (Washington, D.C.), a charter high school school, was awarded 10 innovative U.S. "Super Schools" $10M each by Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Jobs' wife) for revolutionizing schools. Laurene said learning needs to be hands-on, a creative and collaborative approach to learning.  Russlynn Ali, the former Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, is the XQ Project's CEO, and she said that the fundamental problem with American high schools today is that "they are frozen in time.  We've gone from a Model-T to a Tesla, from a switchboard to a smart phone, from a typewriter to a touch screen, and our high schools look today exactly like they did 100 years ago.

Another $10M winner is Furr High School in Houston.  This school was transformed from a drop-out factory with more than 12 gangs.  The 82-year old principal Bertie Simmons changed by 50% graduation rate to over 90%.  She started by meeting with all of the gang leaders.  She talked with the gang leaders, and they came to trust her, and the gang violence stopped.  She believes that if you show respect, that you get respect.  She says the secret is personalized learning based on each student's passions. 

“If you don’t care, kids know it. They can read you in a minute,” Simmons said. “And you’ve got to sincerely care about each individual – not just a few of them, not just the ones who make As, but all of them.  (Reimagining Education, Chip Reed, CBS This Morning, September 15, 2016)

Eagle Academy

The Eagle Academy for young men is a success story for inner kids.  The Academy was created to make a difference in the Black / Latino community.  The Eagles Academy is a system of 6 schools open to grades 6-12.  These all boys schools are changing the lives of at risk youth.  A group of 100 black men created the program in 2004.  The schools are strategically placed in high crime areas in New York Burroughs and New Jersey.

Many of today’s urban youth get caught in a vicious cycle that has only 2 potential outcomes - either prison or death.  They get caught up in fights, crime and gangs.  67% of black children in America grow up in a single parent home.

The Academy is changing lives.  It helps young men understand what it takes for the light to go on - for them to believe in themselves.  Structure and discipline is provided which many of the boys have never had.  Students wear uniforms.  Each boy is paired with a mentor from the community.  School days are longer to avoid idle time on the streets.  There are no girls there, which is a huge distraction, so they can remain focused on school.

The average number of black and Latino boys to graduate high school in New York City is about 50%.  It is 78% at Eagle Academy, with 100% getting accepted into college.   There is much greatness which lies within these young men of color.  With the right direction, they can soar.  These schools give these young men an alternative to life on the streets.  Eagle Academy desires to replicate these schools across the country.   (Eagles Soar, CBS This Morning, January 21, 2015)