low-performing school

School Turnaround: How Did George Hall Do It?

Dec 14, 2012
George Hall kindergarteners learn writing basics in Samantha Laubenthal’s class.
Dan Carsen / Southern Education Desk

Before the Mobile County school system reconstituted George Hall in 2004, less than half its students were on grade level. Discipline problems spilled out into the neighborhood. Its reputation had plummeted to the level of its test scores.

But as state Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice puts it, “It’s remarkable to think where they were eight years ago and where they are today. The demographics of the students have not changed at all, but their academic achievement has soared.”

George Hall relies on school-wide lesson plans and behavior policies, not to mention constant striving for improvement.
Dan Carsen / Southern Education Desk

The positive reinforcement that is a mainstay of classes at Mobile, Alabama’s George Hall Elementary mirrors the praise coming in from around the country. At least 95 percent of students here consistently score at or above grade level in math and reading. Educators from other districts come to observe and learn. It’s been a national Blue Ribbon school, a state Torchbearer School, and according to tech giant Intel, it has the best elementary math instruction in the United States.

But it wasn’t always like this. Before 2004, its chronic “low-performing” status, behavior problems, and failure to teach the most basic skills were the norm.

Mississippi School Leaps from 'F' to 'B' in One Year

Dec 12, 2012
Reading scores at Heidelberg have skyrocketed. Principal Lowanda Tyler-Jones watches third graders interact with their teacher during a reading lesson.
Annie Gilbertson / Southern Education Desk

Failing schools can flounder for years. But occasionally a school will buck the trend and turn things around. Heidelberg Elementary in Clarksdale, Mississippi was once a failing magnet school.  In a year’s time, it’s made one of the biggest test score gains in the state.

Inskip Principal Elisa Luna with third grade student Sarah Lawrence. “It’s a good school,” Lawrence says. “It’s gonna take me to good places –- like good colleges, and good places to work.”
Christine Jessel / Southern Education Desk

In Knoxville, Tennessee, one school climbed from the state’s failing list to a top ten list in three years. The Southern Education Desk reports, as a new principal, Elisa Luna had inherited a violent inner-city school.

Josey High School principal Ronald Wiggins helps students in Shannon Moore’s chemistry class.
Maura Walz / Southern Education Desk

Three years ago, a group of the lowest-performing schools in Georgia began receiving millions of dollars in federal money to fund an ambitious attempt to improve dramatically. As those schools enter their final school year receiving that money, the Southern Education Desk reports on one school’s progress.