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McKinney middle school named one of nation's 10 'Breakthrough' campuses
Less outer support. Fewer resources. No problem.
Scott Johnson Middle School in McKinney is proving to the nation that a high student poverty rate doesn't always mean low academic performance. It was recently selected as one of 10 "Breakthrough Schools" through the 2013 MetLife Foundation-National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Breakthrough Schools program.
Established in 2007, the program recognizes high achieving or vastly improving middle-level and high schools that serve large percentages of students living in poverty.
"My initial reaction was one of pride and excitement for our staff and students," said Mitchell
Curry, principal at Scott Johnson. "The staff works so hard to help all of our students to achieve beyond their limits, and our students are incredible ambassadors of our community."
Scott Johnson was the only Texas school recognized, and the top 10 selections were chosen from an initial pool of more than 300 secondary schools nationwide. Each selection showed significant gains in academic achievement, demonstrating continuous improvement on statewide assessments like TAKS and STARR over at least the past three years.
Selection criteria were based on the schools' documented success in aligning strategies focused on NASSP's Breaking Ranks Framework core areas: collaborative leadership, personalization, and curriculum, instruction and assessment.
"This year's class of Breakthrough Schools represents how an uncompromised focus on the things that really matter leads to sustained school improvement," said JoAnn Bartoletti, NASSP executive director. "Collaborative leadership, a personalized environment and careful attention to what is taught and how it is assessed - hallmarks of the Breaking Ranks Framework - apply in all school contexts, and the 2013 Breakthrough Schools provide us success stories that illustrate that diversity."
Curry came to Scott Johnson five years ago, when redistricting and a middle school addition left Scott Johnson with around 900 students who were more diverse and had higher needs than McKinney ISD's other middle schools. With well over 30 percent of its student population with low socio-economic status, Scott Johnson is the district's only Title I-eligible secondary campus.
Yet the school has achieved a "recognized" state rating four straight years, and maintains the highest rating of secondary schools in McKinney, despite a "challenging population," Curry said.
Scott Johnson students scored 88 percent or higher in every subject for TAKS scores during the 2010-11 school year, including 97 percent in writing and 99 percent in history, and their TAKS scores have continued to improve over the past five years, Curry said. They have consistently scored above the national average on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, an evaluation that fosters student-specific improvement.
NASSP representatives visited Scott Johnson in October to see how a seemingly disadvantaged school continually holds the advantage over its middle school peers in academic achievement. They and Curry credit a personalized learning experience for much of the success.
"Every student counts," Curry said. "We know a lot of our students are not coming to school with the same tools, so it's about designing individual education plans for each of them. Our teachers don't just want every kid to succeed, they make sure they succeed."
Collaboration is another tenet of its success, he said, and one that's built from the first schooling step and up. Scott Johnson's feeder schools - Press, Webb and Vega elementary schools - now participate in "No Excuses U," through which teachers and administrators "push college even at the elementary level," Curry said.
That nudge gets stronger at Scott Johnson, when at the start of every school year, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) students take a picture donning a cap and gown - a concrete cue that college is a possibility for everyone. Staff recently took about 130 students to the University of North Texas (UNT) to see how close and attainable it really is.
"We don't do K-12, we do K-16," Curry said.
At Scott Johnson and McKinney North High School, every week ends with "College Friday," dedicated to university aspirations. Students and staff wear college shirts, and teachers post college-themed signs on classroom doors. Curry said consistent reminders that college is in the cards are "making a huge impact" on students playing their best hands - "breaking tradition" by doing well on STARR and ReadiStep, a middle school assessment that determines college readiness.
"Effective education depends on collaboration," said Dennis White, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation, which funded the Breakthrough program. "In distinctive ways, the principals of the Breakthrough Schools have demonstrated the type of leadership that helps teachers, parents, students and communities work together to succeed."
Selected schools will be honored the weekend of Feb. 28-March 2 at NASSP's Ignite 2013 Conference in National Harbor, Md., and will receive a $5,000 grant. The association's monthly magazine, Principal Leadership, will feature the schools, and their principals will take part in activities at NASSP venues throughout the year.
Though he'll reap the recognition benefits, Curry was adamant in pointing to the real reasons for the breakthrough - those in the classroom, making Scott Johnson an exception to the assumption.
"The teaching that goes on each day is truly incredible, and our students are so fortunate to have such loving professionals," he said. "They are truly great educators and life-long learners, and I am proud to be on this journey with them."