Four Public Schools Receive the 8th Annual Dispelling the Myth Awards

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K-12 Neighborhood Schools in Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas Proving Success is Possible For All Students

Last week, The Education Trust honored four outstanding public schools with the eighth annual Dispelling the Myth Awards. The award recognizes outstanding work in narrowing achievement gaps between student groups, exceeding state standards, or rapidly improving student learning.

With dedication, high expectations, and relentless attention to the business of teaching and learning, the educators working in these high-poverty and high-minority schools prove every day that all students can learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels.

The 2010 Dispelling the Myth Award winners are:
•    Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School, New Orleans
•    Jack Britt High School, Fayetteville, N.C.
•    Griegos Elementary School, Albuquerque, N.M.
•    Morningside Elementary School, Brownsville, Texas

“Each of these schools demonstrates that when tough and smart educators fully commit themselves to high achievement, students perform at high levels,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. “These educators would be the first to tell you that their work is far from finished. But by showing what is possible when schools are organized for success, Dispelling the Myth Award winners are more than just beacons of hope. They are the proving ground for what works to ensure that all children–no matter their background–are well prepared for success beyond high school.”

What these schools have accomplished should silence dangerous, widespread myths that achievement gaps are inevitable and that academic achievement has more do with a child’s background than with the quality of education he or she receives. This year’s award winners, all traditional public schools, illustrate that neighborhood schools can–if organized for and committed to student success–provide a high-quality education for all students.

Dispelling the Myth school leaders know that excellence is far from easy. But common themes emerge from their practices, including an uncompromising focus on strong instruction; exposing students to rigorous, rich curriculum; and using data to track student progress and meet individual student needs as soon as they arise.

The Dispelling the Myth Awards will be presented during the annual Education Trust National Conference in Washington. Through this year’s theme, “Take Charge of Change: Effective Practices to Close Gaps and Raise Achievement,” educators from across the country will explore successful strategies for eliminating the gaps that exist in K-12 schools nationwide.

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About the 2010 Dispelling the Myth Award Winners

Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School
New Orleans
A poster in Bethune Elementary exemplifies the ethic that drives its staff: “Our job is to teach the kids we have. Not those we would like to have. Not those we used to have. Those we have right now–all of them.”

Even before Hurricane Katrina, the students attending Bethune Elementary–virtually all African-American and mostly poor–faced difficult out-of-school circumstances. But instead of feeling sorry for the students and just making sure they are safe and fed, these educators claim the power they have to change lives, inspiring all students to believe that they can achieve at high levels, and providing the challenge and support they need to do their best.

One of the key drivers of the school’s improvement, says Principal Mary Haynes-Smith, is a careful system of monitoring achievement and individually targeting assistance. Reading and math coaches meet regularly with teachers to review the progress of each student and plan strategies to maintain momentum. That kind of careful attention has been paying off: For example, all of Bethune’s sixth-graders meet state reading standards, compared to 70 percent of sixth-graders in the state. And 62 percent of the school’s sixth-graders read at an advanced level, compared to just 4 percent statewide.  


Jack Britt High School
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Among educators it is widely acknowledged that it is hard to develop successful high schools–particularly large comprehensive high schools serving a diverse group of students. Located near the Fort Bragg army base, Jack Britt High School is one of North Carolina’s largest and highest performing campuses, a place where teachers echo Principal Denise Garison’s determination that students succeed and feel the responsibility to make that happen. Ninety-two percent of Jack Britt’s African-American students graduated in 2010, outpacing their white classmates and far exceeding the 67 percent average for African-American students statewide.

Within a state that has enormous and discouraging achievement gaps, Jack Britt has few gaps, and even the ones they do have are small. According to one teacher, “We don’t point fingers at other people and other situations and say, ‘That’s why this child didn’t make it.’ We help that child.” North Carolina gives students end-of-course exams that measure how much students have learned in a variety of courses. In Algebra I, more than 95 percent of the school’s white and Latino students pass the exam as well as 92 percent of African-American and low-income students. Statewide, just 86 percent of white students, 73 percent of Latino students, 63 percent of African-American students, and 68 percent of low-income students pass.


Griegos Elementary School
Albuquerque, N.M.
Griegos Elementary School, where three-fourths of the students are Hispanic and more than 60 percent are low-income, is one of just a handful of schools in New Mexico where almost all students are meeting state standards in math, reading, and writing. For example, 91 percent of Griegos’ fifth-graders meet or exceed reading standards, as compared to just 59 percent statewide.

According to Principal Tom Graham, a former Marine attack jet pilot who is calmly capable of facing any challenge, the success is due to the faculty’s and staff’s high expectations for all students regardless of their socioeconomic status. One teacher commented, “We don’t care if you’re rich or you’re poor. You’re going to do the work. Both for work, and for behavior, they’re all accountable.” Every student is expected to meet standards, and teachers spend time working together to build lessons and identify any student who is having trouble, using individual portfolios kept by the students themselves to track of their progress. That kind of focus has paid off in big gains: Science proficiency among low-income fifth-graders has skyrocketed from 48 percent in 2006 to 92 percent in 2010.


Morningside Elementary School
Brownsville, Texas
Just a few miles from the Rio Grande, 100 percent of the students at Morningside are Hispanic and more than 90 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Many students start school without knowing any English – 59 percent, in fact, are considered English language learners. When Principal Dolores Cisneros Emerson arrived she found that the early grades were taught almost entirely in Spanish, contradicting district policy. Emerson mandated that all students be taught in English from the start. In addition, she focused on strengthening instruction in those early years and provided new books, materials, and computers to support those classrooms.

Difficult circumstances didn’t deter Emerson from setting high standards from the very beginning.  While critics could call this unrealistic, she moved Morningside from an “academically acceptable” in 2005–which Emerson calls “not acceptable”–to an “exemplary” school in 2009, a designation given only to schools in which 90 percent of students, including 90 percent of each student subgroup, meet or exceed state standards.