How to turn around a turnaround school

The push is on to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. As a matter of fact, the feds are offering $3.5 billion –that’s right, billion — in Title I school improvement money with the understanding that those receiving the money will use one of four turnaround models to fix their schools.

Here at the Center, we took a look at Sam Houston High School, which was ordered by the state of Texas to close and implement a complete make-over. Here’s what we found out.

The newly reconstituted Sam Houston High School for Science, Math, and Technology opened its doors on August 2008 with a new principal and staff. And in just this short time the school has shown dramatic improvement. Here are some of the lessons the school learned as it went from being a “drop-out factory” to one that has made remarkable strides in achievement in its first year of reconstruction:

  • Commitment, experience, and high expectations of management and staff is crucial
  • New management and staff can create the kind of culture students need to succeed
  • Teacher mentoring and support are still necessary
  • It helps when new leaders bring along seasoned staff
  • Developing strong partnerships gives the school leverage
  • Developing relationships with students, parents, and the community is key to success
  • Change cannot happen without support from the district and other resources

About 88 percent of Sam Houston’s students are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch. Almost 93 percent are Hispanic, though only 16 percent are classified as limited English proficient. Nevertheless, one of the things the new Sam Houston did was make all students apply to at least three colleges. “These kids have been beat up for so long, that they don’t think they can do it. Then when they get the [acceptance] letter, they start to believe that that they can,”  says the school’s principal Jane Crump. 

All students deserve access to good schools and a chance to succeed at life after school, and this school finally took the necessary steps to give its students what they need. To learn more about Sam Houston’s victories, read the Center’s success story, Good management and high expectations make a difference at this turn-around school~ Pamela Karwasinski

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