Under 5,000 enrollment category

No IEP Needed 

Colts Neck Township Schools, Colts Neck, New Jersey



A high number of Colts Neck Township Schools students were receiving service under 504 accommodation plans and speech-only IEPs. These students needed therapeutic support to help improve areas of weakness, but they didn’t necessarily meet the criteria for being disabled. As a result, district leaders started the MOVES and SAID intervention programs, which provide interventional therapy to students deemed at-risk. All paperwork, including consent forms, consent for screenings, and results of screenings, progress monitoring forms, and exit forms, etc., have been developed to ensure that parental involvement — including fully informed consent, explanation of diagnostic information, treatment goals, and participation expectations—are communicated from the start.

MOVES (Motor Opportunities Validating Education Success) and SAID (Speech Articulation Intervention and Development) were designed as interventions for children identified as having weaknesses in a variety of areas including: articulation, fluency/stuttering, motor planning/executive functioning, and fine motor weaknesses.

Removing Barriers

Colts Neck, a preK-8 district, serves 973 students. Approximately 15 percent of its students have IEPs. Traditionally, schools have been reluctant to offer intensive interventions and therapeutic services such as speech, occupational, and physical therapy without declaring that a child has a disability. This can lead to the unnecessary classification and labeling of children just to grant them access to readily available school-based services. Research supports the effectiveness of speech, occupational, and physical therapies in addressing individual weaknesses presented by students with speech, fine motor and gross motor difficulties, respectively. Further, strong correlations between speech and motor development also have been related to overcoming academic weaknesses, learning disabilities including dyslexia, and executive functioning needs. The programs are designed not only to address direct motor or speech needs, but also to improve literacy and overall readiness to learn in the school setting by strengthening students’ functional capabilities.

The goal of these interventions is to bridge the gap between special education and general education. The key to success with any type of intervention program is through collaboration of the therapists, teachers, and parents. The goal in Colts Neck is to be proactive and not reactive. Through these programs (MOVES and SAID) it can address motor weaknesses which may impede a student in achieving his or her true academic potential. All children have the capacity to learn in different ways. By improving a child’s physical being, we often can see improvements in their level of alertness, focus, and ability to learn in school—the “brain/body connection.”

Evidence of Success

The programs have been running for three years. Individual student progress is tracked by therapists through progress monitoring tools. Overall program effectiveness is reflected in the district’s ability to meet goals of minimizing the unnecessary classification of students through the provision of 504 plans and IEPs. The resulting data is as follows:

SAID: Number of students receiving services: 34. Number of students in district with a Speech Only IEP: 1 (who just transferred in to the district with one).

MOVES: In June 2017, Colts Neck had 68 students receiving services through 504 plans. In June 2018, the district had 31 students receiving services through 504 plans —a reduction of more than 50 percent due to services offered through intervention programs.

Superintendent MaryJane Garibay

Reaching Students Through Art

Gates Chili Central School District, Rochester, New York


ARTS(Arts Reaching and Teaching in Schools) Partners

The ARTS Partners program is a partnership between the Rochester Broadway Theatre League (RBTL) and Gates Chili that integrates theater, music, arts, dance, and visual media into classroom curriculum across all subject areas, while meeting all major core standards. After a successful pilot year in 2016-17, the district committed to this partnership as a new way to develop and align curriculum and standards to instruction throughout the entire district. To facilitate this partnership, the RBTL associate director of education and community engagement is working as an Arts Integration Teacher on Special Assignment, creating student-centered curriculum around the National Broadway Tours coming through Rochester.

The partnership not only allows students a chance to be engaged closely with the materials around a Broadway show, but also allows them to turn the lens back on their own cultures and their future. All students are engaged in a highly interactive curriculum that meets state and national standards and challenges their thinking through new learning styles. Much of the developed curriculum involves a ‘taking informed action’ piece, in which students identify an issue within their own community to consider and act upon. Students have the opportunity to attend a performance at a significantly reduced rate, as well as have personal interactions with cast and crew members, Skyping sessions when possible, and an “insider” look at the creation of the performance through the partnership with the RBTL.

Removing Barriers

Gates Chili is a diverse, economically challenged community, with over 24 languages represented among their English as a Second Language families, many who have arrived in the community directly from another country. Four of the six schools in the district are eligible for Title 1 support; 53 percent of the population is economically disadvantaged, 13 percent of students have disabilities, and 5.5 percent are English learners. Most students had never experienced the arts outside of the school community. Through developed curriculum and inquiries, students are building and demonstrating understanding through a common experience, self-reflecting, listening, explaining through collaborative learning, problem solving, and accepting multiple outcomes.

Evidence of Success

The program had a big impact on the literacy proficiencies of the children learning rich text, complex vocabulary, and the power of words as lyrics to a song. Classrooms beginning the school year reading 60 percent to 70 percent below grade level were leaving in June at 98 percent to 100 percent at or above grade level. Prior to starting the program, 30 percent of middle school students scored proficiently in state standards in English Language Arts testing. In 2016-17, the first year of the program, that percentage increased to 35 percent proficient and, in 2017-18, it increased to 42 percent proficient. In just two years of implementation, data is proving the partnership and our work around arts integration is helping to develop new ways to increase academic achievement and motivation to learn. The district also faces challenges with student behavior. Administrators have repeatedly stated, however, that when students are engaged with this curriculum, there are no reported incidents of misbehavior.

Carol Stehm, Interim Superintendent


Integrating Culture and Ethnicity

Lapwai School District, Lapwai, Idaho


Connection to the Tribe

The Lapwai School District is located on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation and has an 86 percent Native American student population. Its relationship with the tribe is critical to the success of Lapwai students, which is the largest population of Nez Perce students in the world. District administration works closely with the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee, Nez Perce Tribe Education Department, and the Circle of Elders to help Lapwai’s students continue to beat the odds with pockets of exciting growth.

Removing Barriers

Lapwai’s demographics are unique in comparison to those of many other Idaho schools. Ethnicity is a strength for Lapwai students who are surrounded with a rich culture and beautiful history. Lapwai’s collaboration with the Nez Perce Tribe Education Department has facilitated student achievement through cultural competence and responsiveness. Nez Perce language instruction has been expanded into the school day, preK through high school, where it had previously been limited to after-school enrichment and one dedicated high school class. The current high school Nez Perce language class is dual enrollment for college credit and also counts as a world language requirement as students enter college.

The superintendent co-facilitates a Native Culture and Language Team with the Nez Perce Tribe Education Department as a component to the State Tribal Education Project (STEP) grant. Objectives include: 1) providing leadership for culture and language; 2) engaging the community with culture and language; and 3) infusing culture and language in curriculum and instruction. Action plans include an annual student pow wow to honor our graduates and retirees, as well as a Respecting Our Elders day, where Nez Perce elders engage and share stories, legends, and perspectives with elementary school students. Embracing the strengths of ethnicity and integrating the culture of district students into instruction has led to pockets of growth in student achievement higher than the state average and a competitive go-on rate of students moving on to higher education. Superintendents are only as successful as those that surround them.

Evidence of Success

The Lapwai School District grew 7.5 percent in student proficiency on the Idaho State Achievement Tests from 2014-15 to 2015-16. This is in comparison to only 2.3 percent average growth statewide. Lapwai students have a competitive college-going rate. Though Lapwai had long been classified by “school improvement” status, its focus on improving teaching and learning moved the district out of this determination in 2018.

The Lapwai School District was founded in the late 19th century, before Idaho was even a state. The Nez Perce Indian Reservation land is exempt from property taxes, so the district is not able to run bond levies like most districts do to increase funding. Therefore, it relies largely upon federal funding in the form of Impact Aid.

Unfortunately, Impact Aid is not enough to make up for the funding gaps for Lapwai students. In 2010, the district contracted with a professional grant writer to rigorously seek funds for its schools. Daily collaboration and partnership have led to funding increased elementary mental health counseling, the return of baseball and softball athletic programs, interactive classroom projectors, preschool playground equipment, and drug and alcohol prevention programs, among other projects.

Superintendent David Aiken

No Place Like Home

Newport Independent School District, Newport, Kentucky


Home Visit Program

The Home Visit program was developed when the school board, the superintendent, and district administrators noticed a major disconnect between the teaching staff and the community, as evidenced by poor student/teacher relationships, low attendance, and many student behavioral issues. To build better relationships between the students, the staff, and the community, the board and superintendent decided to have teachers visit their students in their homes before the school year started.

It started with a small group of teachers from the middle school as a test group. The Home Visit Program has quickly grown to a districtwide program, including all 1,500 district students. It has become one of the most unique and most popular programs in the region.

Removing Barriers

The city has a long history of educational and economic challenges. More than 90 percent of the students in the district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Homelessness and transience are prevalent. In August, right before the school year starts, every teacher and administrator dons their Newport Independent School T-shirt and fans out across the city on a mission to visit every student enrolled in their class. This allows the teacher to see where each of their students lives, giving teachers the opportunity to meet the student on their own turf and to meet parents or guardians. Meeting parents in their homes and seeing firsthand the lives of students day in and day out, provides teachers with a better understanding of student needs. Each teacher receives a $250 stipend when their home visits are completed.

The teachers discuss any issues the student or family might have about the upcoming school year. This helps them understand any obstacles that a child might have at home that could affect their schoolwork and performance. If the student and/or parent are not home, the teacher is instructed to do at least one follow-up to reach out and meet them at a different time.

Home visits make the students feel more comfortable on the first day of school. They know a mentor is available to answer questions, provide support, and advocate on their behalf. Without this program, it could take staff members all year to find out important facts about their student’s lives beyond the school day.

Evidence of Success

The Home Visit Program is in its sixth year, but in its third year of visiting 100 percent of the students. The program had instantaneous and positive responses. Teachers have given testimonials about how valuable the insights into the student’s home life can be, and how this program has helped teachers understand the child on a deeper level, which ultimately builds a better relationship between the student and teacher.

Some students even create posters welcoming teachers to their homes. Others can be seen sitting outside on the porch awaiting their teacher’s visit. Parents even seem to become more involved at events at school, and volunteer hours at the schools have increased.

When comparing Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Survey results from before the Home Visit Program to now, parent/guardian involvement has increased by over 15 percent by community involvement has increased by over 30 percent, and students’ understanding of expectations regarding conduct has increased by 25 percent, resulting in fewer discipline referrals across the district.

Superintendent Kelly Middleton

Meeting Behavioral Needs

School District of Altoona, Altoona, Wisconsin


Think Tanks

Concern had been growing over the increasing number of incidents in which students were secluded or restrained in the district. The district’s special education program in all areas is about 15 percent of its total population. The minority population within the school is about 16 percent. During the 2015-16 school year, 205 seclusion and/or restraint incidents were documented for kindergarten through eighth grade. Most students involved in seclusion and/or restraint incidents were special education students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). With the administrative team, the school board searched for ways to reduce these incidents. They came up with the idea of a planned space students could go or be sent to instead of being secluded or restrained. These rooms are designed to be a bit larger than a regular classroom and with several separate areas designed to be learning spaces as well as safe areas for dealing with acting-out behavior if it persisted. It was proposed that a new system of meeting behavioral needs was going to be as important as creating new spaces to accommodate those students.

A “no new costs” directive for developing this program moved the special education director to propose a new plan for staffing paraprofessionals. What evolved was the elimination of several one-on-one paraprofessionals and a consolidation of paraprofessionals who would staff these new areas now designated as Think Tanks.

An important aspect in design was to make these areas pleasant and useful academic areas. They could be a stopping-off place before returning to class or a place for the student to remain under the supervision of paraprofessionals and complete regular classroom work. This infusion of regular academics was another key component. To assess whether the program was enhancing student learning, the plan was to monitor progress on state testing and see if the use of the Think Tanks could have a positive effect on student behavior as well as a positive effect on academic achievement.

Removing Barriers

Students with behavioral needs have many barriers to their education and social relationships. Often they are medically needy, from low socioeconomic backgrounds, have special learning disabilities, and often have a mixture of these factors. Such students often have feelings of alienation and exclusion.

Evidence of Success

 The concept of this program has been in place since about 2014. The design and development of the program evolved over the course of building and remodeling projects from about 2014-16. It was first implemented at the new elementary school building during the 2016-17 school year and is on its third year. Data from the year prior to implementation, 2015-16, showed that the elementary school had 205 seclusion and restraint situations. Scores on the state report card that year showed a Closing Gaps score of 123, a Closing Gaps score for English/Language Arts of 119.2, and a Closing Gaps score for Math of 112.

After the first year of implementation, seclusion and restraint incidents decreased to 143, scores on the state report card that year showed a Closing Gaps score of 141.2, a Closing Gaps score for English/Language Arts of 131.2 and a Closing Gaps score for Math of 163.2. This shows significant gains in student achievement relative to the significant decrease in seclusion and restraint occurrences.

Superintendent Ronald Walsh

5,000 to 20,000 enrollment category


Help for Newcomers

Allentown School District, Allentown, Pennsylvania


K-6 & Secondary Newcomer Academy

The Allentown School District Newcomer Academies serve a culturally and linguistically diverse population of students from around the world. The district enrolls students from 74 different countries who speak 47 different languages. The Secondary Newcomer Academy was created in 2010 to meet the needs of the city’s growing immigrant and refugee community. Students in ninth through 12th grade were enrolled in the first year of operation. Students in grades seven and eight were added during the second year. Since 2010, Secondary Newcomer has helped over 1,400 immigrant and refugee students transition into middle and high schools.

Enrollment at the Newcomer Academy is a temporary placement for up to one year. Students receive intensive instruction in English, math, science, and social studies with teachers who are specially trained to work with second language learners. The focus of instruction is on oral language development. Both academies include bilingual faculty and staff. Newcomer Academy teachers work to improve English language acquisition and prepare students for success in the district’s elementary, middle, and high schools. The language of instruction at the Newcomer Academies is English. Native language support is provided when needed. Bilingual teachers, parent liaisons, and outreach workers assist with communication for English learners (ELs) and families.

Removing Barriers

Allentown is the third largest urban school district in Pennsylvania with 17,300 students. Approximately 88 percent of the student population lives at or below the poverty level. The ESL population makes up 22.4 percent of the students, significantly higher than the state average of 5.5 percent. Allentown’s ESL population grew by 32 percent during the 2017-18 school year.

The Newcomer Academies provide evening activities where parents can engage with the school and other families. Efforts focus on personalized learning and instruction, which benefits students and their families. Parent liaisons, outreach workers, and the homeless liaison assess needs and provide resources.

Evidence of Success

 The WIDA Model and/or WIDA ACCESS 2.0 assessments are used to measure growth in English language acquisition in students who attend both K-6 and the Secondary Newcomer Academy. During the school year, students typically see an increase of .6 of a year or more of growth of English language acquisition as measured by these assessment scores.

While the program is designed to take the full year to acclimate students, some flourish so quickly that they are eligible for a mid-year transition to their home school. During the 2016-17 school year, Allentown successfully transitioned 24 secondary students back to their home school early.

Of the 24 students who were eligible for early transition, 11 earned academic honors (all As and Bs on core subject areas). Before transitioning back, some students already were participating in athletics at their home school, increasing opportunity for social interaction with their peers. Among those students, zero disciplinary infractions were recorded.

Data collection for K-6 Newcomer students is ongoing, but as the school has been open for less than one year, analysis for success is still in the early stages. In June 2018, 81 students ended the year at K-6 Newcomer. In September 2018, 58 of those students had met the outlined requirements to start the new school year in their home schools.

Melissa Reese, communications manager

Leveling the Field

Cambridge Public Schools, Cambridge, Massachusetts


Leveling Up

Through the Leveling Up initiative at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), all students begin their high school career as an honors student. As a large, urban, public high school, CRLS has raised its academic standards by offering only honors-level English and history classes for ninth graders.

Opportunity gaps at the high school historically fell along not only economic, but also racial lines. Students in honors classes could expect academic rigor and preparation for admission to competitive universities, but African-American and Latino students were disproportionately underrepresented in honors and AP courses. They were more likely to enroll in lower-level classes known as “College Prep.”

In the spring of 2015, the student government analyzed achievement gaps at the high school. Its final report argued that eliminating the two-track system and creating heterogeneous classes would benefit all students.

Faculty and academic leaders in the history and English departments agreed but wanted to understand how to eliminate tracking without lowering the bar academically. During the 2015-16 school year, the departments analyzed and adapted models for Leveling Up the curriculum.

Removing Barriers

The data showed that the two-tiered academic structure at the high school was establishing separate and unequal educational pathways that started in the ninth grade. By contrast, Leveling Up establishes that all students are expected to excel academically by starting students out on an honors pathway, with a common expectation for high-level achievement.

Of course, students do not actually enter the honors pathway equally prepared for academic success. Therefore, Leveling Up introduced three crucial ingredients for success: high-level curriculum with integrated differentiation; extra support for struggling students; and professional development for educators.

Leveled Up Honors are as rigorous as traditional honors-level classes. Students read works of great literature by historically and culturally diverse authors, study history through primary sources, and are assigned honors-level writing assignments that demand critical thinking and analysis.

Curriculum resources were developed to support educators in scaffolding and differentiated instruction, and the decision was made that all classrooms would be co-taught by one teacher with content expertise and a certified special educator. Of course, even with co-teaching, some students still need extra support. A new “Honors Access” course is scheduled to alternate with the Honors ELA class and provide extra preparation and support to ensure all students can meet Honors expectations. These ingredients have shifted the culture away from the idea that students come in with a fixed amount of academic talent. Through Leveling Up, students are understood as having diverse needs, but unlimited potential.

Evidence of Success

 Leveling Up is in its second year. In a survey of Leveled Up Honors ELA students last year, 68 percent stated they plan to take an AP English course. Historically, the percentage of students taking AP is around 56 percent. In addition, 92 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel there are support systems to help me be successful in my ELA Honors class.”

Feedback from teachers and administrators is resoundingly positive. Educators express enthusiasm for the depth of collaboration the program has inspired between general education teachers and special educators, and between history and English faculty.

Rosalie Rippey, communications manager

Closing Gaps for EL Students

Chatham County Schools, Pittsboro, North Carolina


Dual Language Program

Dual language programs provide a well-researched approach for promoting biliteracy, bilingualism, and biculturalism for students. A fundamental goal of such programs is to prepare students for the future with abilities to listen, speak, read, and write in two languages, as well as to develop an appreciation of different cultures. Chatham County’s Dual Language program began at one elementary school in 2005. The principal at the time saw the program as a way to meet the needs of a growing population of English learners. The program, which has been strengthened over time, seeks to help close achievement gaps and further ensure improved academic outcomes for all students. The district now has five Dual Language schools (two elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school). The initial program expanded to the feeder middle school in 2011 and to the high school in 2014. An additional elementary school program was established in 2012 with that school’s feeder middle school program opening this year. Without the support of the school board, the district would not have been able to continue developing the program into one of the few comprehensive (K-12) programs in the country.

Removing Barriers

 Chatham’s population is diverse with the following demographics: White, 50.8 percent; Hispanic, 31.3 percent; African-American, 11.4 percent; multiracial, 4.8 percent; and Asian, 1.4 percent. The Dual Language program is based on research that has shown high rates of academic success in English and native language for English learners. Several studies document substantial benefits of extended primary language instruction for these students. Equally important is the evidence that world language immersion programs demonstrate that native English-speaking students achieve superior scores on measures of second language proficiency while performing scholastically at a level equal to or higher than their peers who have received all of their elementary school education in English.

Evidence of Success

 Over the past five years, the district has seen a number of academic gains for students in general and for Dual Language students in particular. Those outcomes have been regardless of race, language, or school. For example, all but one of the Dual Language schools have either met or exceeded the state’s growth. The one outlier met growth for four of the last five years. In addition, both Dual Language elementary schools have improved their school performance grade/state accountability measure. One school was removed from the list of schools designated as low-performing. The district also has continued to see an increase in the number of schools meeting their language progress goals.

Superintendent Derrick Jordan

Promoting Mental Health

Columbia School District No. 93, Columbia, Missouri


Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition

The Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition (BCSMHC) is a collaboration among six Missouri school districts and the University of Missouri to promote the mental health and well-being of all children in the county. It recognized that schools are uniquely positioned to promote positive behavioral health and to identify and provide services to students in need of mental health evidence-based practices. While Columbia is the largest district in Boone County, there are private/parochial schools and five other school districts served by the coalition: Centralia, Sturgeon, Hallsville, Southern Boone, and Harrisburg school districts.

Three times per year, schools in Boone County conduct universal screening using both teachers (K-12) and student report (grades three to 12). These data are disseminated to schools through a web-based clinical dashboard system, which provides schools reports showing the number of students indicating areas of risk.

Schools receive feedback on the percentage of students reporting risk indicators. Checklist areas are reported in risk levels based on the percentage of students within a school indicating a similar area of concern. These data then can be used by school-level teams to assess areas of concern at the school and at grade levels to determine if and what prevention efforts can be put into place. In addition, individual student reports are generated using a similar system to indicate students who—in comparison to their peers—are at risk. These reports can be used to determine the appropriate next steps toward supporting those students at greatest risk. Each school administrator team has access to this dashboard through a secure server. In addition, all administrators have their own unique account to view all buildings data.

Removing Barriers

 The coalition reaches thousands of youth in need of mental health services in a cost-effective manner, with prior research revealing such approaches impact community level dropout, arrest, mental health diagnostic, and pregnancy rates among teens. While all children and youth are screened, the coalition can identify and help change the outcomes of underserved youth.

BCSMHC trains school-based teams to connect assessment data to preventive and intervention programs, improve the coordination of information and services for at-risk youth and their families, develop child-centered and family based wraparound service plans for in-risk youth, and improve the effectiveness and follow-up of referral services stemming from assessment-driven wraparound plans for youth and their families through intensive case management.

Evidence of Success

 The program has been incorporated in Boone County schools since 2015. All county schools gathered checklist data three times during the school year from teachers and students. BCSMHC tracks the number of teachers and students that complete the checklist for each implementation. It reports that 90 percent of school principals reported reviewing checklist data at least once and 63 percent of schools reported that student-level checklist data was used. Regional coordinators have worked with a subset of schools to comprehensively track and document school-based services and referrals for students identified as at- or in-risk by the checklists. Regional coordinators have successfully collaborated in documenting provided services for all identified students at 16 of the county’s schools. A total of 1,527 students were identified as at- or in-risk.

Kristin Cummins, program specialist

Access to College

Roseville Area Schools, Independent School District No. 623
Roseville, Minnesota


Access and Equity in College Credit Classes

The objective of this program is to have broad successful participation in college credit classes that is proportional to race-ethnicity groups in the student body. The district began tracking equity metrics to measure progress in eliminating racially predictable outcomes. It looked at race-ethnicity differences across many areas including participation in rigorous coursework. The data for pre-Advanced Placement (AP) and college credit classes showed around 40 percent under-representation of students of color, a result needing immediate intervention. The metric provided an impetus to build on a best practice initiative showing promise to narrow the gap: Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). The district used this college readiness program schoolwide to establish a culture of taking rigorous coursework and provide intentional instruction in skills needed for success; offer a wide array of career and college credit classes that are relevant to different interests and backgrounds; and redesign the AP program to remove barriers and build support for success.

Removing Barriers

 The district listened to and engaged students to understand barriers. Students did not see themselves as having the skills and confidence to be successful. Taking this insight, teachers worked together in a newly formed AP Professional Learning Community (PLC) to invite students in, remove prerequisites, and change the teaching mindset of AP classes (the most frequently available of college credit class) to intentionally instruct in skills not just content, building relationships, and increasing support available to students. To address other barriers, the number and diversity of courses were expanded, more than doubling the offerings and adding career preparation and technical classes. The AVID strategies and tools were implemented schoolwide to become accessible to students beyond those in the AVID program.

Schoolwide implementation of AVID Principles—AVID is designed to close the achievement gap by preparing students to be college ready. The district offers the AVID program to students who have academic potential with average to high test scores and who are either the first in their families to attend college, a member of a group historically underserved in college, from a low-income family, or experiencing special circumstances.

Evidence of Success

 This program has been in place for eight years and has a proven record of sustainable results. It has increased participation by students of color 260 percent over four years while maintaining average test scores by sub-group. Not just students of color benefitted, but also white students who had not yet gained access (95 percent increase). Participation by race-ethnicity sub-groups is now roughly proportional to the student body and is translating to a higher rate of attending college.

The program also has contributed to more students graduating and a narrowing of race-ethnicity gaps. From 2014-17, the district’s four-year graduation rate increased 4 percent, resulting in 87 percent of students graduating in four years. Because the gains were concentrated amongst minority students, the graduation gap between white and minority students narrowed: 12 percent of Asian students gained 15 percent, Hispanic students 14 percent, and African-American students 5 percent. White students stayed relatively constant. The district and each race-ethnic group currently outperform the state of Minnesota.

Kitty Gogins, chair of the
Roseville Area School Board

20,000 enrollment category


Train and Lead

Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Annapolis, Maryland


Equity Lead Program

In 2004, parents, concerned citizens, and groups to include the Anne Arundel NAACP filed a discrimination claim with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, charging that Anne Arundel County Public School system had categorically denied and limited educational opportunities for African-American students. The school board signed a Memorandum of Agreement to address the discrimination claims. As a result, the Office of Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement (OEASA) was created. Anne Arundel has 126 schools and 83,000 students. Since the Office of Equity only has four staff members, developing the Equity Lead Program was essential to more effectively and efficiently execute the office’s mission to serve and support students, schools, and families by promoting high levels of student achievement.

An Equity Lead is a faculty member who is committed to the work of equitable practices and eliminating the achievement and opportunity gap. The duties and responsibilities of the equity lead include analyzing data by student groups to support school improvement efforts and equitable practices; provide leadership in establishing schoolwide professional development goals and initiatives as a part of his/her role on the school improvement team; and facilitate at least two parent involvement opportunities that educate and empower parents in how they can support equitable practices.

Removing Barriers

 The OEASA is deliberate about building the capacity of the Equity Leads. Quarterly, researched-based professional development is facilitated by the executive director, senior manager for school support and equitable practices, and specialists for school and community partnerships. Equity Leads bring this professional development to their schools and school-based equity teams.

During the most recent school year, there were four days built into the school calendar for a half day of professional development. During these early dismissal days, Equity Leads facilitated professional development about: implicit bias, “all means all,” the opportunity to learn, and culturally responsive teaching.

The Equity Leads maintain communication with the OEASA and with other Equity Leads to inform, collaborate, and seek support from one another. When equity issues arise in the schools, the Equity Leads are the first line of defense as a vested member of the school with a keen understanding of school dynamics. As opposed to having outsiders come in to help solve the problem, the Equity Lead empowers the school community to unite and problem solve to seek an amicable resolution. Most importantly, the Equity Lead helps to cultivate and maintain an equitable culture that celebrates diversity.

Evidence of Success

Based on the most recent data in 2016-17, the most notable evidence of the Equity Lead Program’s impact is the number of students from specific populations who achieved proficiency on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in English 10.

Percentages of students scoring four or five on the assessment in English 10: 9.8 percent increase for African- American students; 4.6 percent increase for special education students; 3 percent increase for Hispanic students; and 4.7 percent increase for students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

Miesha Walker, specialist for school and community partnerships

Family Engagement

Bakersfield City School District, Bakersfield, California




 Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Program

As an urban school district, the Bakersfield City School District primarily serves an economically depressed and high-crime area within the city of Bakersfield and Kern County. It is the largest K-8 school district in California, with 29 percent of students identified as English learners and 89 percent eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Program consists of three components: culturally responsive school site-based programs designed to build a positive school culture and climate; district programs designed to train families on navigating school systems and developing personal leadership and parenting skills; and parent leadership programs designed to give opportunities on family outreach and provide input to school staff around culture and climate.

These are realized through five strategies:

  • Strategy 1: District FACE representatives are central office positions that support site administrators and site-based FACE Liaisons as they encourage culture change through family engagement opportunities.
  • Strategy 2: FACE Liaisons, based at each of the district’s 43 schools, facilitate culturally responsive classes, organize parent outreach events, and coordinate efforts with community agencies to support the comprehensive needs of families.
  • Strategy 3: Parent Cafes are monthly events structured to strengthen relationships and engagement among parents/families and school staff.
  • Strategy 4: Parent University and Parent Resource Centers build parents’ leadership and advocacy skills and allow opportunities for continued growth and development. Parent University is a multiyear program comprised of three different courses.
  • Strategy 5: Parents as Leaders are highly engaged parents recruited to receive monthly training in order to serve as parent ambassadors.
Removing Barriers

 The barriers to participation are concerns about time, transportation, and child care. To overcome these barriers, the Parent University program provides multiple locations and times to accommodate parents’ schedules. The Saturday morning Universities are held in two locations on opposite sides of the district, with school bus transportation provided to parents and their children to attend either location. Both sites also provide child care for children ages 4 and older. Special education aides are also on staff to allow for parents with special-needs children to attend the classes. Breakfast and lunch are provided for all attendees, as well as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking parents. American Sign Language interpreters are available on request. A Thursday evening Parent University is also available for parents who may not be able to attend on the weekend.

Evidence of Success

Parent engagement across the district has increased because of the multiple layers of support and opportunities. In the fall of 2018, the Parent University Kick-Off was attended by over 900 parents. Climate surveys revealed that 90.6 percent of parents felt welcome at their child’s school, 89.7 percent felt the school provided regular opportunities for them to participate, 91.2 percent felt the school treated them with respect, and 87.4 percent felt their overall experience with their child’s school was positive.

Increased parent engagement helped reduce suspension rates and chronic absenteeism. Suspension rates were reduced from 3.3 percent in 2015-16 to 2.1 percent in 2016-17. Likewise, chronic absenteeism fell from 15.8 percent in 2015-16 to 14.1 percent in 2016-17.

Dee Dee Harrison, coordinator,
family and community engagement

Mission and Goals

Fort Worth ISD, Fort Worth, Texas


Equity and Excellence

Equity and excellence, as a formal part of the school board’s mission and goals, began in early 2016 as a new superintendent began an organizational restructure. The initiative is embedded in new school board policy, which has 13 goals. These goals address a variety of areas, such as providing every student with equitable access to high quality, culturally and personally relevant instruction, curricula, support, facilities, and other educational resources. The district monitors practices, including assessment, in special education; monitors and works to eliminate the loss of instructional time due to disciplinary referrals; works to encourage advanced academic opportunities; creates welcoming environments that reflect support for racial and ethnic diversity; and reports annually on the recruiting, employment, placement, and retention of persons from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups at all organizational levels.

In 2016 and 2017, the school board passed an equity policy; approved funding for a districtwide racial equity work plan, in which trustees themselves participated; supported the districtwide reallocation of resources through programs of choice, communication outreach through volunteer opportunities, and home school connections with parent portal.

Removing Barriers

The equity initiative includes student programs, community outreach, professional development and training, and reallocation of resources to schools in need. During several campus-based and centrally held meetings, it was evident that African-American and English learners scored far below their white counterparts. After diving more deeply into the data, the district found that African-American students identified as noneconomically disadvantaged scored lower than white students identified as economically disadvantaged in several content areas. This reality confirmed that it was necessary to begin a conversation about race throughout the district and the community.

The district continues to reach out to the community for input on how to achieve racial equity for our students. More than 320 people took part in the inaugural Racial Equity Summit in March 2018.

Evidence of Success

 The reallocation of resources was one of the first visible steps towards implementing the equity policy. In the spring of 2017, the board passed a budget that supported five struggling schools to be reconstituted as “leadership academies” under a new plan. The board supported the new initiative with a more than $5 million general budget allocation, and the Richard Rainwater Charitable Foundation, a longtime champion of public education, provided a gift of $1 million to support the academies.

These five schools hired new teachers and administrators from a pool of educators deemed the most highly qualified in the district. The new employees received a significant financial incentive for their three-year commitment to improve the academic outcomes at these campuses.

Each campus became a Leadership Academy, opening in the fall of 2017 with a new name. The schools operated on an extended-day schedule, remaining open until 6 p.m. and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They achieved double-digit gains in accountability scores in 2018. Overall, the Leadership Academies showed significant increases in the percentage of students passing Texas state assessments from 2017 to 2018 in over 80 percent of the subjects tested.

Barbara Griffith, senior communications officer

The Gift of Literacy

Pomona Unified School District, Pomona, California


Literacy Equity for Birth Through 3rd Grade Hispanic Students and Their Families

A child who cannot read by third grade faces a greater possibility of dropping out of school. The challenge of literacy is compounded when a student is also an English learner. The Pomona Unified School District is an urban district with a student population that is 85.6 percent Hispanic. Over 34 percent of students are English learners, 85 percent are in poverty, 11.6 percent have disabilities, and 11 percent are homeless. Children were coming to kindergarten and first grade with significant linguistic barriers. Of the more than 2,000 students enrolled in the district’s pre-K program, 78 percent are Hispanic, with a large percentage of Spanish speakers. But while 52 percent of eligible children were in preschool, another 48 percent had no access to classes at all.

In January 2016, the district created the community-wide bilingual literacy initiative. The program’s goal is to promote literacy for every pre-K through third grade child in the community. Every family of children from birth to third grade within the district’s boundaries would have access to the award-winning, bilingual English and Spanish “Footsteps2Brilliance Early Literacy App,” whether or not they attended district schools.

Removing Barriers

 With a majority Hispanic population, the district developed a citywide initiative that addresses the literacy needs of Hispanic students even before they enroll in school. By leveraging the smartphones that parents already own, the district provides families with game-based, bilingual resources that prepare children for academic success to create a system of equity for Latino students that starts in the community and continues in the school.

The initiative has reached out to hard-to-reach populations through churches, food banks, health fairs, backpack giveaways, meetings with private day care centers, and holding Coffee with a Cop events to partner with law enforcement to create positive interactions in the neighborhoods.

With the popularity of the initiative, the program has expanded to English/Chinese, and English/Arabic to accommodate the district’s other populations, as well as the district’s English/Spanish and English/Chinese Dual-Immersion programs. Our Adult Education students have also benefited, using the program to learn English. PUSD believes in equity for every person at every age in our community.

With a focus on improving kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading proficiency, this initiative has enabled the district to engage families before their children enroll in school, collaborate with feeder preschool and day care centers that send children into district schools, engage hard-to-reach populations, and enable businesses to contribute to student success in tangible ways through Wi-Fi hotspots, donations, literacy ambassador programs, and sponsorships.

Evidence of Success

 California English Language Development Test scores that test English learners show that overall, pre-K to second grade English learners engaged in the literacy initiative show significant improvement in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

As Superintendent Richard Martinez has said, “If we want our children to succeed, we must give them the gift of literacy, and how better to do this than through the support of their parents, families, and community.”

Ana Zambrano, program assistant

Students on Board

St. Paul Public Schools, St. Paul, Minnesota


Student Engagement and Advancement Board

The St. Paul Public Schools Student Engagement and Advancement Board (SEAB) is a team of 13 students who develop and implement strategies that amplify student voice. SEAB works on multiple initiatives each year to increase student voice in decision-making at the board and administration level. The board, administration, staff, and students may choose to submit a project proposal for SEAB to work on. It works as a group to determine what the members want to do during the year or to design its own projects with input from the student body.

In 2015, the school board discussed how to increase student voice in decision-making processes. In Minnesota, however, state law does not allow a student member of a school board to have voting rights. Instead of implementing a student seat, the board formed a task force that included board members, district administration, and staff who had already been running youth leadership programming. With student input, the task force designed a structure of students who would work collaboratively on district improvement from the perspective of students.

Since that time, SEAB has completed numerous projects and proposed multiple changes that have helped the districts create a more inclusive and student-centered district. Based on its recommendation, a board seat shared by SEAB members was created with the understanding that no one student or group of students can speak on behalf of students, but the shared seat could provide the perspective of the group.

Removing Barriers

 SEAB is designed to remove barriers to achievement for underserved students in three main ways: increased voice for marginalized students, policy change, and practice change.

Over the past four years, members of SEAB have represented many experiences of the district’s most marginalized students. They have experienced homelessness, been suspended or dismissed, dealt with micro- and macro-aggressions from staff, been harassed by school resource officers, and managed learning differences. SEAB members have identified as immigrants, members of each of the district’s largest ethnic groups, refugees, transgender, gender non-conforming, LGBTQ, and English language learners. Their diversity, along with their commitment to inclusivity, has brought new perspective to institutional decision-makers by centering their personal experiences.

SEAB works with the board to co-create policy change that improves student experience and outcomes. In 2016, SEAB conducted a project on inclusivity that was proposed by the board. It conducted broad-based research with peers and presented the board with a series of proposals for improvement including three policy changes. Each resulted in the implementation of a policy change.

Evidence of Success

SEAB was launched in fall 2015. Program success is measured by deliverable outcomes. SEAB has brought about change in several policies, include a new policy ensuring ongoing student voice in district decision-making, a nongendered dress code, and graduation attire policy.

Changed practices include: creating a districtwide staff training on inclusive schools; implementing student advisories for SROs at the district and school levels; and securing a role for students in superintendent searches.

Shaun Walsh, program manager


Around NSBA

Six students conduct a science experiment with potatoes and electrodes.

2024 Magna Awards: Silver Award Winners

The 2024 Magna Awards program recognizes 15 exemplary district programs in three enrollment categories as Silver Award winners.