Cradle to College

Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska

A student ipaints parts of an antique tractor.

A student in the Automotive Program paints parts of an antique tractor.

Cedar Bluffs Public Schools make sure students have every opportunity available to them, despite their socioeconomic status. Cradle to College starts with free preschool for children ages 3 and 4 and ends with free college classes in grades 11 and 12. It offers free youth sports programs and after-school programs for elementary students and provides free transportation at the end of the school day and at the end of practices to make sure that there are no restrictions for a student who wants to participate in extracurricular activities.

The preschool helps parents lower the cost of child care before their child starts kindergarten. The after-school program goes from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and provides a variety of enrichment activities for preschool-to-8th grade students whose parents are unable to pick them up right after school. This program, since it is offered at no cost to the parents, helps lower the cost of  child care. This program also includes youth sports practices.

Cedar Bluffs also provides athletic uniforms and equipment for youth, middle school, and high school activities. If students need new shoes or items not provided, there are scholarship opportunities to make sure those needs do not keep a student from participating.

Cedar Bluffs Career Academy (CBCA) offers high school students free college classes that lead to certifications. These certifications and college credit hours are provided at no cost to the student.

Removing barriers: This program seeks to remove the barriers for students from low-income families. Often these families need help with  child care, and older siblings are not able to participate in after-school activities because they must take care of their younger siblings. The after-school program with the late transportation program helps to eliminate this barrier. Free college classes and access to certifications make them valuable to future employers and provide the opportunity to avoid large amounts of student and family debt. In the Career Academy, high school students are required to complete several job shadows and internships.

Evidence of success: The preschool was started in the fall of 2013. In the first year, there were 70 families interested in sending their children to preschool, so the district added a second room in 2014. Seeing the need to help families led to the creation of the after-school program in 2015. Over the last six years, the preschool numbers have stayed steady, and there continues to be a waitlist for 3-year-olds. These preschool numbers also have proved to increase the school’s enrollment. The school also has opened an on-site day care at a discounted rate to help families who bring their children to Cedar Bluffs. The day care also benefits the teachers and staff who coach sports and mentor activities at all levels, from youth to high school.

The numbers in the after-school program also are consistently high. This led to connecting the youth sports program with the after-school program, to help make sure students could attend practices. Additional transportation has been in effect since the start of the after-school program.



Kate Chrisman, career academy director


The Early College Program

San Luis, Arizona

A girl writes on a whiteboard

The Early College Program emphasizes STEM-related education and experiences.

The Early College Program started in 2007 to help boost STEM education. The program gives elementary school students opportunities through community college partnerships, ACT preparation classes, after-school advanced math tutoring for fifth- and sixth-graders, and partnerships with the Center for Talented Youth program (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University.

Early identification of talent is key to the success of the program. The district universally screens students starting in the fifth grade using state math scores and building-level norms. These students become part of the college math, ACT prep courses, CTY talent search program, after-school tutoring program, and the three-week CTY summer residential program.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students can take ACT preparation courses as part of their school schedule. Fifth- and sixth-grade students are introduced to ACT in the advanced after-school tutoring program. Since 2007, sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students have been taking college-level math, including beginning algebra, intermediate algebra, and pre-calculus.

The district has been sending students to the CTY three-week summer residential programs since 2006. They take a university-level course from a wide range of choices.

Removing barriers: The district wanted to create a program that prepared students for STEM-related careers. Students needed strong mathematical skills and exposure to STEM-related experiences. The Johns Hopkins University CTY had a three-week summer residential program for gifted and talented students. The CTY program offered students the opportunity to take a university-level course, experience college life by staying at a university campus, meet students from other parts of the world, and access financial aid scholarships for low-income families. Eligibility for the CTY program became the biggest challenge for students, as they had to take the ACT and score three years above their grade level. To increase their chances of qualifying for the program, study groups were formed. Based on universal screening, the district recruits and invites seventh- and eighth-grade students to participate.

Fifth- and sixth-grade students receive after-school tutoring from a group of experienced teachers. Students learn high-level algebra and mathematical concepts covered in the ACT. The transportation department transports students to the middle school and junior high to work with a team of teachers. This program helps students get ahead of the curve in math, a subject students need to be strong in for STEM degrees. Students know that this program will prepare them to participate in CTY and will allow them to enroll in college math.

Evidence of success: The numbers of students who take the ACT have steadily increased, as has participation in the CTY program. The district has received more than $7 million from Johns Hopkins University donors for students from 2006 to 2019 to participate in CTY. The Gadsden Math Program, part of the GESD Early College Program, has provided college classes to more than 1,600 students from 2007 to the present. Currently, 120 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students are enrolled in math courses from beginning algebra to pre-calculus, taught by community college instructors who are also high school teachers.



Homero Chavez, Early College Program director


Bright Futures & Big Dreams

Park City, Utah

Students visit an art gallery

A visit to a local art gallery helps to inspire students.

Bright Futures & Big Dreams provides consistent, reliable, and sustainable support for traditionally underserved and first-generation language-learner students to receive in-the-moment preparation in academic content vocabulary to open the doors for dual enrollment and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The program champions advanced education for first-generation students and provides mentorship, support, leadership opportunities, and scholarships to students throughout their two- or four-year university experience. Efforts to bolster and support underserved youth academically, socially, emotionally, and financially have yielded 65 percent of first-generation language learners attending higher education compared to the national average of 15 percent college matriculation.

Removing barriers: The program was developed to bolster and support the academic opportunities for traditionally underserved youth through an in-school support program. It provides content area learning and extended school day and school year opportunities to engage in academic content. It champions student efforts to break through any barrier to participate in both dual enrollment and AP courses. A Park City graduate started the mentoring support aspect of the program that has now reached more than 100 students. It mentors first-generation students through the preparation for advanced education access. Students participate in summer programming, are supported with college admissions and guidance, are provided leadership and service opportunities as well as internships, and are mentored through their higher education experience with school site visits throughout the first year away from home. The Park City School Board is committed to inclusive and equitable practices and several years ago eliminated all academic fees at an annual cost of $775,000. Bright Futures & Big Dreams has been recognized locally, statewide, and nationally.

Evidence of success: For more than 10 years, Park City educators, community, and the school board have advocated for the need to improve academic attainment and outcomes for all students. Working collaboratively with local nonprofits as well as seeking grant funding support, district champions for children have provided grassroots development and leadership in programming that is supportive and inclusive of the community. It has yielded positive results for traditionally underserved youth by opening doors to pre-teaching academic content, providing standardized assessment preparation, encouraging participation in comprehensive, advanced professional studies, and providing support to graduates through their two- or four-year degree programs. The class of 2021 had 65 percent of students commit to attending college over the national average of 15 percent and the local average of 5 percent 10 years ago. In addition, students persist through their studies when they know they have the continuous support of advisors and mentors who work directly with youth, families, and university partners across the country.



Jill Gildea, superintendent

Student Voice through Reimagine Richfield

Richfield, Minnesota

Four girls pose in caps and gowns

Students engage in shaping their academic and extracurricular life.

Reimagine Richfield was a student-led forum based on the Reimagine Minnesota events designed to “create lasting equity and excellence in education for all students.” Held during the 2016-17 school year, the event allowed Richfield High School students to provide feedback to help improve the school. The students had a lot to say about daily life in the high school, inequities that they experienced, and the things they wanted to be fixed.

The district elevated and centered student voice in planning and decision-making by creating a Safe and Supportive Schools Committee and adding four student representative positions to the school board. The committee works to ensure a welcoming, healthy, supportive, safe, and caring school environment for all. Members have provided input to the school board on numerous policies, including attendance, bullying and harassment, discipline, dress code, equity, family engagement, gender inclusion, and wellness.

Removing barriers: In 2014, the graduation rate at Richfield High School was 78 percent, with a 13-point gap between white students (90 percent graduation rate) and Black students (77 percent) and a 24-point gap between white students and Latinx students (66 percent).

Few rigorous courses were offered, and the students who enrolled in them were predominantly white.

The district expanded advanced courses beyond the four core areas and opened them to non-honors students, increasing the total number of advanced courses available, and created a seven-period schedule that allows more flexibility and opportunity. Advanced courses are now open to any students who wish to enroll, and they can take seminar classes to support their success in these courses.

Evidence of success: During the 2017-18 school year, Richfield High School students created a legacy. Many of the programs, outcomes, and activities that students experience today are the direct result of student input during Reimagine Richfield. In the past five years, the reforms have brought about dramatic change and helped to eliminate the graduation gap. In 2020, the four-year graduation rate was 89.71 percent for white students and 89.62 percent for non-white students.

College credits earned by students went from 600 to 2,000 per year. Students of color enrolled in college credit classes increased from 30 percent to 65 percent.

Improvements didn’t stop at the high school. The district updated facilities, made changes in the curriculum at all grade levels, and worked to ensure that even the youngest learners could benefit. That is part of the legacy.



Jennifer Valley, director of marketing and communications

Jackson Hole High School Student FLEX Program

Jackson, Wyoming

The FLEX Program provides teachers with time for individualized student instruction.

Traditional high school master schedules assume all students learn at the same pace. Master scheduling reflects set times for all students to attend and participate in courses, defined by a set number of minutes. Students must learn within fixed time structures. To counter this traditional approach to meet the individual needs of students, Jackson Hole High School implemented a FLEX Program.

The FLEX Program is academic time for teachers to provide specialized, small group, and individual support. The program includes a Daily FLEX Program during every regular school day and a Friday FLEX Program during strategically chosen Fridays through the year.

The Daily Flex Program is approximately a 35-minute period every school day. Following a weekly schedule, students engage in academic remediation, reteaching, and enrichment opportunities with their teachers. Students can participate in school clubs or take a college- and career-ready educational program delivered by school counselors. Enrichment programs and teacher-led alternative offerings are available as well.

The Friday Flex Program is approximately 12 Fridays that target students who need additional support. Each Friday consists of four one-hour classes. Students who demonstrate the need for additional instructional support are required to attend. Students who demonstrate advanced proficiency in classes are not required to attend.

It is critical that FLEX programming occurs during normal school hours. This equalizes access to support. Building FLEX into the school day provides equitable access and opportunity for all students, regardless of background.

Removing barriers: A central part of the Teton County School District #1 mission is to reduce the K-12 student achievement gap, with a focus on the gap between Hispanic and white students. At the high school, the ACT is used to assess student achievement. All 11th-grade students, regardless of background or academic standing, take the ACT in the spring. The ACT measures college readiness in math, reading, writing, English, and science. The FLEX program is one effort that helps the district narrow that gap.

The Daily and Friday FLEX program provides access, opportunity, and support to all students and is customized to meet individual needs. Both models allow teachers to work with students in small groups or individually, thus removing the barriers that exist in a traditional classroom, where it is difficult for a teacher to meet the individual needs of students when class size can be between 20 to 40 students.

Evidence of success: Overall student engagement is high, as data shows more than 98 percent daily attendance, and more than 95 percent of students participate in one or more school activities. The high school has a 96 percent graduation rate, an average ACT score of 23 or higher, including all 11th grade students tested as a state requirement.



Gillian Chapman, superintendent

The Identity Project: Renaming Schools

Alexandria, Virginia

Workman removes signage from school building

The name of segregationist T.C Williams is removed from the district's high school.

Two Alexandria City Public Schools were named when vastly different beliefs guided decisions in the U.S. The district took decisive action by launching a renaming process: The Identity Project. The goal was to lead a community conversation that allowed all voices, particularly students, to be heard as the district looked toward a more equitable future in Alexandria—all in support of its anti-racist journey.

On Aug. 27, 2020, the school board charged the superintendent with establishing a community engagement process to consider a name change for T.C. Williams High School, which was named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, a staunch segregationist. This decision was prompted by a community petition in June 2020. In September 2020, the board also voted to consider renaming Matthew Maury Elementary School.

While name changes are important, it is an initial symbolic step. The work is to ensure equity is ongoing. Real inequities still exist in the classroom. This project included opportunities to capture student, staff, and community feedback through read-ins, student and community chats, and an online public feedback process. The public community engagement and education process led to
75 percent of the community agreeing to change the name of both schools.

The process of selecting new names ensured that students, staff, alumni, families, and the community were all heard. On April 8, 2021, the school board voted to rename T.C. Williams to Alexandria City High School, and it renamed Matthew Maury to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

Removing barriers: The name of the district’s only public high school has been the subject of debate for many decades. Williams, who was superintendent from the 1930s until 1963, argued that Black and white students should be kept segregated. One hundred years earlier, Maury held equally reprehensible views about race.

The school board vote consigned to history two individuals whose legacies have no place in Alexandria City Public Schools. It proved to the community that racial equity was at the heart of all decision-making at the district and began the healing process for many students, even amid the pandemic. Signage-removal events on the last day of school, led by students who were engaged in the process, marked the ending of an era.

Evidence of success: There was overwhelming support for the name changes with little vocal support to retain either name; 72 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they wanted the name of Maury changed and 75 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they wanted the name of T.C. changed.



Julia Burgos, chief of school and community relations

Building Systems of Care

Andover, Massachusetts

A team of mental health providers gather at a school

A team provides mental health care prevention and intervention.

The demand for pediatric mental health care has never been greater. In many cases, public school is the only source of support for students. In Andover, the team of social workers sees more than 850 regularly scheduled students per year. Yet data indicates less than 30 percent of these students have a primary treatment team or therapist. The district wanted to bridge that gap, so it built a system of care.

It started by reimagining the existing support structure. The students were already coming for a wide variety of supports, so designing systems and procedures around those supports seemed to be a more effective and efficient way to provide services.

The district already had a short-stay program designed to transition students from hospitalizations or other acute challenges. It then developed an inclusionary at-risk program. This program is a structured transition planning and individualized wraparound process for youth with emotional and behavioral challenges.

The core program is a system of support services for students with chronic or episodic mental health needs that interfere with daily school functioning and access to the general curricula. The goal of the system is to provide students with multidisciplinary social, emotional, and academic support in the context of specialized instruction and in-class help.

Removing barriers: Taking ownership of the care and intervention for children with hidden disabilities is a matter of social justice. Attending to children’s needs requires a harmonious approach to service delivery. The district combined mental and behavioral health teams under one umbrella of professional supervision and collaboration.

The district screens for indicators that are predictive of burgeoning mental health conditions rather than more overt social-emotional skills. Finally, it provide a targeted curriculum with modules specifically designed to meet more acute mental health needs. All students are monitored via weekly case reviews, and all program components are reviewed to ensure each student is receiving the right mix and level of services. Program specialists include trained teachers, psychologists, social workers, administrators, and school nurses. Case coordinators work with outside agencies and providers to ensure continuity of care. Program teachers track academic progress and assist students with communicating with general education teachers.

Evidence of success: The district started with a wraparound program for at-risk students at the high school. Then, it opened the first program at the middle level in the fall of 2018. Since then, two elementary and another high school program were added.

In the three years prior to opening the middle school program, 18 students were placed out of district. In the three years since the program has been operating, only two students have been placed out of district, and one has returned from an out-of-district placement.

As more programs open, the number of students placed out of district for emotional-behavioral disorders has been reduced by more than 70 percent.



Sara Stetson, assistant superintendent

Penguin Project

Corsicana, Texas

Students review the script for a production of “Annie, Jr.”

Penguin Project talent and mentor review the script for a production of “Annie, Jr.”

Named for the exceptional characteristics of penguins, the Penguin Project is a theater production in which all roles are filled by students with special needs. Students are joined on stage by a dedicated group of peer mentors who work alongside these students through rehearsals and performances. Corsicana ISD originally invested in this project to find a way to address the inclusion needs of students who have additional needs. However, after the project’s culmination, it was immediately seen as a transformative project across the community in its entirety.

Students with special needs, general education students, and community members seek to address the need for inclusive community culture and the confidence and skills of students with special needs. Although this project may be perceived as single-focused, the reality of this transformative project is that general education students and community members are of equal focus. General education mentors gain an understanding of different disabilities and how they may manifest in their partner. The mentor then learns how to best support that individual so both can be successful. Additionally, community members across the districts come together to sponsor, donate, and support every student in the project.

Removing barriers: The Penguin Project seeks to use a common practice in an innovative way. Altering the typical play production strategy allows the district to include all students and community members to take part in this program. Likewise, its inception allows for a deep partnership between all students, including those with special needs and those who are in general education.

The Penguin Project seeks to include students in grades four through 12 who would typically be excluded from such productions. The project facilitates an inclusive community culture as it connects a cast member and mentor to partner throughout rehearsals and the production. This allows for social skills to develop in both student populations. Meetings are held to educate mentors regarding different disabilities and how they can manifest in the daily lives of students.

Evidence of success: Students, parents, and the community report progress toward an inclusive culture and confidence in their student. Students, staff, and community involvement also have increased from the previous year’s performance. Parent interviews have revealed changes within the family unit as they have seen tangible growth from their child. This has, in turn, created significant buy-in from families, community members, and students.

Students with additional needs report feeling valued, more confident in themselves, excited to have new friends throughout the school day, and “feeling like they belong.” The project demonstrates that students in the general education setting (mentors) equally benefit. This may manifest as a career change, an inclusive attitude, or strength in recognizing the manifestation of a disability and confidence in building a relationship.



Margie Crow, 504/dyslexia supervisor

Royal Reps and Royal Connections Program

Hopkins, Minnesota

Students pose in their team t-shirts

Members of the Royal Reps and Royal Connections Program help lead equity and innovation work in the district. 


The Royal Reps and Royal Connections Program is a multifaceted approach to centering student voice and providing leadership opportunities for students. Students are selected each year for the program, and they provide support to lead equity and innovation work in the district. Their roles have included leading community engagement to inform the strategic vision, designing and teaching community education courses and tutoring programs, and leading innovation work throughout the district. These students reflect the racial and socio-economic demographic diversity of the district.

During the district’s strategic visioning process in 2018, Royal Reps designed and facilitated a student-led community engagement effort to inform the district’s vision. The 26 Royal Reps received training to design their own survey questions. At the end of a summer’s worth of work, the Royal Reps presented the survey results to Hopkins staff members. One of the community priorities identified during this process was mentorship and academic support. The Royal Reps evolved into the Royal Connections program, working with the Community Education and Engagement Department to respond to the evolving needs of the community.

The original concept of Royal Connections was solution-focused: High school students needed employment and summer leadership opportunities, and students and community members needed enrichment and connectedness. Royal Connections student instructors are trained, supported, and held to professional expectations while learning valuable workplace soft skills. The student instructors earn a wage of $15 per hour to deliver high-quality, low-cost programming.

Recently, Royal Connections partnered with the Hopkins High School Peer Tutors credit-earning course to expand its reach and scope to include academic and tutoring support.

Removing barriers: The district recognizes the importance of centering the voices of students who have not historically been well served by our public education system and providing them with opportunities to lead.

The Royal Connections enrichment classes and tutoring services provided to low-income students and students of color and their families are an important step in breaking down systemic barriers to academic success. This program also provides students with strong scholar role models and mentors whose impact goes far beyond academic outcomes.

Evidence of success: The Royal Reps program began with 26 scholars in 2018 to include student voice in the strategic visioning process. Over the past three years, the Royal Reps model has evolved to include the Royal Connections program, which started as a response to the community’s desire and need for more enrichment, tutoring, and mentoring. These needs were exacerbated by COVID-19. In fall 2021, Royal Connections had a roster of 40 Hopkins high school students who serve the district as enrichment instructors, teaching assistants, and tutors across K-12, including virtual academic quarantine support.



Jen Bouchard, Hopkins school board chair

Farm to Table

San Luis Obispo, California

Two food service employees put fresh strawberries in bags

Food and Nutrition Services staff prep locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables for lunch.

In 2017, the San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s Food and Nutrition Services program underwent a dramatic shift in how it approaches school meals and nutrition education. By intentionally focusing on farm-to-school education and procurement of local foods, the Food and Nutrition Services program fostered relationships with local businesses to help students understand where their food comes from and provide high-quality school food. The goals and objectives were to create a food and nutrition services program that teaches students how to grow, prepare, and eat locally grown foods regardless of socioeconomic background, as well as to teach students about where their food comes from to reduce waste and build respect for our food system.

Removing barriers: The program was critical in destigmatizing school meals so that equity and access are leveraged. School food should be so delicious it attracts all students, not just those “in the program.” Traditional school lunch programs rely heavily on processed meals shipped from central distribution centers, creating a disparity in meals provided by the program and meals provided from home. The program has shifted to an “eat local” and “farm-to-school” model, contracting with local farmers, ranchers, bakeries, and fishermen to create a variety of meals that include plant-based options and student-created food. By bringing local farmers and producers to the school sites for educational opportunities, the program enables students to experience a food culture and food system that fosters a healthy relationship with food in later life. In addition, when combined with a complementary curriculum, students learn real-world applicable skills.

Evidence of success: Student engagement has been key to the program’s success. The district has hosted several “Meet the Farmer” and “Meet the Fisherman” events at schools, where students get to meet local growers and learn about their farm/food business. They get to taste a local item and ask questions about how it grows and is processed. The students gain connection and respect for the food system.

At one site, a local organic farmer shared how farro (an ancient grain) grows. Students ended the visit with a taste test of a farro side salad. Children were excited to ask questions and interact with the farmer. After the event, one student recognized him at his farmer’s market booth. He said to his mom, “It’s Larry! He grows farro, and we tried it at school. It was so good. Let’s get some!”

During the pandemic, the program partnered with the library system to develop a virtual summer cooking class for high school students. Students picked up a recipe box at meal pick-up distributions and received ingredients, cooking tools, recipes, and more to make the dishes they wanted to sample in person, at home.

This is the power of building respect in the local food system. It’s about so much more than what’s on the lunch plate today. It’s about keeping farms and food businesses going for the long term, educating the consumers of tomorrow, and teaching them about where their food comes from and why that matters. This approach provides nutrient-dense foods that fuel health and wellness. Better health means less illness and full bellies ready to learn.



Mandy Dawson, executive assistant to the superintendent,

Visual and Performing Arts

Bakersfield, California

A student plays the cello

Bakersfield City Schools invest in a comprehensive arts education for all students.

Bakersfield City School District’s Visual and Performing Arts Program expands student access to arts education through an equity-based model, resulting in increased student attendance and higher student achievement. As the largest K-8 school district in California, and with 27.5 percent of students identified as English learners and 84.7 percent designated as socioeconomically disadvantaged, Bakersfield has invested in a comprehensive arts education program for all students because students do better in school when actively engaged in arts learning.

The program has three essential components: course of study in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts for all students in grades prekindergarten to six (i.e., foundational learning); instrumental and vocal music program in grades three to eight (i.e., enrichment learning); and arts academies (i.e., extended learning) as part of the extended learning program for students in grades one to eight.

Removing barriers: The program is structured as an equity-based model. The district owns and maintains one of the largest musical instrument inventories in California, having invested $2.1 million in 2007 for the purchase of new musical instruments and equipment to ensure that all children who wish to play an instrument may do so. Worn-out musical instruments are replaced each summer. The district employs a program coordinator who allocates budget, supplies, and equipment where most needed. All students have access to foundational learning in the arts.

The district’s strategic arts plan guides the professional learning topics provided to all arts teachers. Since 2017, the district has supported the training of 11 arts specialist teachers at the Kodály Institute at California State University, Bakersfield. Kodály methodology connects student learning through folk songs that are culturally relevant for them.

Evidence of success: Michael Stone, district visual and performing arts coordinator, states: “Our programs are successful because they exemplify excellence, and our positive results are tangible as reflected in our data.” In October 2019, music enrollment in the district was at an all-time high since data was first tracked in 2003. Elementary music enrollment is at a new all-time high, with 3,359 students enrolled. Since the creation of the vocal music program in 2015, enrollment in vocal music classes has more than doubled. Instrumental music program growth has increased 14 percent at the junior high/middle school level and 117 percent at the elementary level since data was first tracked in 2003. In addition to more student participation, students enrolled in the music education program come to school with better attendance rates than their non-music peers (i.e., 2020-21 music student attendance rate was 96.97 percent; non-music student attendance rate was 95.23 percent). Students in the arts also have better grades (i.e., 2020-21 music students’ grade point average was 2.94 as compared to non-music students’ grade point average of 2.43).



Tim Fulenwider, executive director of instructional support services

Equity-Based MTSS

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Two graduates dressed in their caps and gowns

Equity-Based MTSS uses data to serve all students.

The multitiered systems of support (MTSS) is an excellent, transformative idea if conceived and applied correctly. But if it is merely a program placed upon a pre-existing inequitable system in a district or school with no work done to redesign the system, the outcome will be continued inequities. By working to build and implement a multitiered system of support that is grounded in equity (equity-based MTSS), Cumberland County Schools is solving this conundrum. The purpose is to produce a systemic framework by which the district and schools can organize all other systems so they work to benefit all students. In 2019, the district participated in a research project grant to design and implement a sustainable, effective, equity-based MTSS that ensures success for all students.

The district leadership team and University of Kansas collaborators created the framework by team building and defining roles, identifying the district’s ideal statements to guide process and outcomes, and conducting resource mapping. The team built tiered-intervention matrices, progress monitoring tools, a facilitator’s guide, and clarifying standard treatment protocols to ensure effective implementation.

Removing barriers: The intention of designing and implementing an MTSS that provides interventions and supports is to help all students achieve no matter where they may fall on the tiers. The purpose of creating an equity-based MTSS is to ensure that the framework addresses the overarching issue of societal inequities through a practical vehicle.

The reach of this framework must be deep and wide. It must be systemic. In this, it seeks to remove barriers deep in the system. This is not an easy, temporary fix. This is an effort that, no matter who comes and goes, is an abiding, sustainable framework that addresses removing barriers to achievement and is deeply established and running smoothly in the district and in the schools.

At the district level, this means making a long-term, large-scale investment in a comprehensive data dashboard that pulls all data points across academics, behavior, attendance, and social-emotional learning to one place. It’s easy to overlook students, particularly those who are on the periphery, if there is no true data system to evaluate these data points. It’s easy for students to fall through the cracks if a district uses a variety of disparate data points that cannot be compared against one another. District and school administrators need real-time data and analytics to identify which students need assistance and in which areas.

Evidence of success: The implementation of the Equity-Based MTSS has the highest levels of support down to the schools. In a district of this size, it is easy for different departments to pull in opposite directions. However, the academics and student support services departments have been collaborating. The school support and data and accountability departments are joining in the process.

Success is in the building of an easy-to-use, step-by-step facilitator’s guide and resource dashboard that assists principals in creating and implementing an effective, sustainable framework in their building. The most recent training of school teams had close to 1,000 school staff in attendance, including their principals and assistant principals, school counselors, social workers, and teachers.



Jovan Denaut, integrated academic and behavior support facilitator

VAPA for All

Moreno Valley, California

The cast of "Little Mermaid" gather on stage

The cast of the Vista Heights Middle School production of “Little Mermaid.”

The Moreno Valley Unified School District determined in 2015 that there was a lack of visual and performing arts and moved into action. The school board decided that investing in a quality visual and performing arts (VAPA) department, under the direction of the chief academic office of educational services, would bring a high return on investment for students.

Hiring a coordinator to lead a VAPA department became a priority. Many secondary schools had classes prior to this department, but the curriculum was scattered, and there was no meaningful coordination both horizontally or vertically across the district. Immediately investing close to
$1 million resulted in the replacement of musical instruments, updating visual arts equipment, purchasing uniforms, upgrading facilities with new dance floors, and reconfiguring theater seating, lighting, and sound at multiple high schools.

Removing barriers: The VAPA collaboration team (parents, teachers, school board members, administrators, community partners, and California Alliance for Arts Education representation) created a unique arts education plan (AEP) to identify the purpose, goals, and annual objectives.

The AEP guides the department to achieve evolving goals that encompass cultural awareness, exploration of the arts, and an appreciation for equity and the diversity of all stakeholders. The objectives address professional development; course updates; instructional collaboration among district departments and postsecondary universities; future facility expansions; and timelines to update, repair, and replace equipment.

Underserved students are involved at significantly higher rates through this well-guided AEP.

During COVID-19, an investment of over 300 musical instruments was made to support students who could not provide their own. This significant purchase was critical during distance learning because it increased equitable solutions for VAPA students.

During the pandemic, the VAPA coordinator, professional development specialists, and counselors created an initiative titled Document Today. The district supplied every student with an art kit (50-page sketch pad, three drawing pencils, 12 colored pencils, and a pencil sharpener) for use at home during COVID-19. It also offered every teacher integration training strategies. The initiative’s focus was to use the arts for student mental health and document this historical time.

Evidence of success: The most significant indicator of success is the increased number of participating students across the district who often share they never believed they would have artistic experiences and coursework toward the levels of professional presentation during their experiential learning and social experiences in school.

Qualitative data shows contributing factors to the graduation rate reaching 91.4 percent in 2020, up from 65.7 percent in 2010. A combination of setting systems in place to ensure more students graduate; adding programs such as VAPA; conveying that focus to all stakeholders through ongoing outreach; and celebrating each milestone with students, families, and community has made this rise possible. VAPA students’ data tell a story of determination, growth, and promise.



Martinrex Kedziora, superintendent

Tiered Emotional and Mental Health Supports (TEaMS)

Newport News, Virginia

A student and school support specialist look at a computer screen

Student support specialists help students to identify coping skills to deal with various mental health conditions.

Newport News Public Schools’ student body includes a significant homeless population and a high number of students identified with disabilities. It was crucial to provide mental health services in schools to meet the needs of all students adequately.

Tiered Emotional and Mental Health Supports, or TEaMS, was created to provide equitable opportunities for all students to have access to a continuum of social-emotional learning and mental health support. This tiered system allows accessibility to support for students with varying needs, ranging from developmental social-emotional learning challenges to outpatient mental health therapy, all within a school building during the school day.

It begins with daily social-emotional learning instruction for all students and concludes with outpatient mental health therapy provided in the school setting. This structure provides all students with access to much-needed help with a tiered approach beginning with the teacher, then moving to the school counselor, student support specialist, school social worker, school psychologist, and ending with clinically licensed mental health therapists. The inclusion of direct outpatient clinical mental health supports helps families unable to afford these services.

Removing barriers: TEaMS was developed as a systematic approach to address the social-emotional needs of all students and remove barriers to more intensive support. Barriers to intensive support include access to services, number of students requiring intensive support, discipline and attendance issues, loss of instructional time, and staffing ratio to student need. In tier one, all students learn social-emotional skills through daily classroom instruction. Tier two includes school counselors who deliver classroom guidance lessons and individual and group counseling. Tier three consists of support provided by licensed school social workers, school psychologists, and student support specialists. Student support specialists develop individualized service plans and are liaisons among students, schools, community agencies, and community resources.

The final tier is the inclusion of licensed mental health therapists. The district has developed a financial structure that provides students access to school-based mental health therapy. Diagnosed students receive weekly outpatient-level services in school. The availability of these services within the school building during school hours increases attendance and academic performance for these students and supports equity by removing economic barriers.

Evidence of success: Over three years, the school division’s department of student advancement has hired seven mental health therapists, contracted with an agency for four additional licensed therapists, and partnered with the Hampton/Newport News Community Services Board for two additional licensed therapists. These 13 therapists provide school-based mental health outpatient therapy for students on-site during school hours, after school, and during the summer. The program allows for more service availability for students and their families. It also permits increased instructional time by allowing students to return to class following a session.



Michele Mitchell, executive director of student advancement

Immersion Programs

Upper Marlboro, MD


A student and teacher look at a laptop screen

Language immersion programs are a key strategy for preparing students to be college- and career-ready.

Beginning over 30 years ago with a French Immersion Program, the district gives students an opportunity to be immersed in instruction in the content areas of math, science, social studies, and language arts in Chinese, French, and Spanish.

Speaking another language improves memory, problem-solving, concentration, critical thinking, and listening skills. Students graduate with bilingual, biliterate, and multicultural skills, and are ready to take on the world.

Data from internal assessments and state standardized tests show that Immersion Program students perform as well as, or better than, their peers, on assessments, all while learning the content in another language. Students do everything other students do, but they get the added skills of becoming bilingual and biliterate.

The programs address the needs of Spanish-speaking English learners who come with literacy in their home language. Instead of promoting English-only literacy, the program provides opportunities for students to develop literacy in their home language and English.

Eliminating barriers: The French Immersion Program was created more than three decades ago as a strategy to integrate schools and overcome segregation. In the past 10 years, expansion of programs and models has been a priority strategy to prepare students to be college- and career-ready with multilingual and multicultural skills.

The district continues to remove barriers by providing opportunities for access to all. Entry into the programs is through an equitable computer-generated lottery. Programs are in strategic locations within the district, and buses are provided so that any student has access. Instruction is provided to students with disabilities, talented and gifted learners, and English learners who come to school with literacy in their home language.

Most students around the country are not graduating fully bilingual, biliterate, and with the skills of a second language for the workforce. However, for families selecting the Immersion Programs path, students graduate from high school bilingual and with Maryland’s Seal of Biliteracy.

Evidence of success: While the school system was in the process of expanding Immersion Programs to include Chinese and Spanish, district leadership asked for a study to show that the existing French Immersion Program was successful in improving student achievement. The department of research and evaluation studied the impact of the French Immersion Program on achievement and college readiness. The research showed a consistent pattern of impact in English language arts, mathematics, and science across grade levels. The results demonstrated that the impact progressively increased as students moved through elementary and middle school. The students outperformed their peers by 14 to 39 percentage points, depending on grade level. In science, they outperform by 9 to 25 percentage points. The study stated that students who graduated from the French Immersion Program were more college- and career-ready than students who attended traditional elementary and middle schools.


Jane Tarwacki, immersion instructional specialist

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.