When Robin Peterman came to Merle J. Abbett Elementary School in Fort Wayne, Ind., three years ago, the school had a 22 percent pass rate for state reading and math tests. Abbett was in the bottom five of the state. In addition, morale was low and “people felt beaten up and in survival mode.”
But the school, as well as the rest of the Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS), has made tremendous progress since then—“a revolutionary transformation” according to Laura Cain, the district’s program manager. In 2010 and 2011 the district made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and, in addition, earned an A rating from the Indiana Department of Education, according to its accountability grading system for districts. Also, the graduation rate has continued to surpass the state’s rate for the last four years; in 2011 it was 88.1 percent as compared to the state’s average of 85.7 percent.
FWCS’ 31,000 students are some of the most diverse and disadvantaged in the state, speaking 80 different languages and dialects, with 70 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. In Abbett, almost all of its 320 students are African American and Hispanic; it also has the district’s highest percent of English Language Learners (ELL).
How did this turnaround occur? A variety of forces came into play including support from Superintendent Wendy Robinson, the board of trustees, the Wallace Foundation and the HOPE Foundation. Ten years ago the Wallace Foundation worked on leadership improvement with Fort Wayne’s principals.
HOPE has been working in Fort Wayne for the past four years, first as a pilot project, bringing its Courageous Leadership Academies (CLAs) to help develop and refine professional learning communities for better teaming, curriculum development, data analysis and culture building.
CLAs have also helped ...