Transforming Public Education for School and Student Success

Green Dot Graduation

Since our founding 20 years ago, we have been guided by the belief that every student deserves access to a high-quality public school option in their neighborhood. In our first five years, we established five independent public charter high schools in historically underserved communities. Today, each of these schools is in the top 10% of high schools nationwide.

Over the years we’ve continued to build expertise in improving student outcomes and got into a specific kind of partnership with local districts to lead several traditional attendance-boundary schools.

More than ten years after our first transformation, our work leading school turnarounds is changing outcomes for students and has been recognized by the Federal Department of Education. Ultimately, we know that we can’t fulfill our mission for all students alone, and it’s why we’ve developed a replicable model that provides lessons for communities across the country.

This year, we take another step forward in transforming public education. Green Dot was invited to partner with the local school district in Beaumont, TX to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for the students of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. Through district-partnerships we’re sharing our practices and expanding our impact to help ensure that every student has access to a high-quality education.

Why Partner for School Transformation

Despite our early successes, it soon became clear that we were not able to reach all those who could most benefit from our model, especially opening one school at a time. As a result, we sought to lead a traditional enrollment boundary school so that we could serve those students who didn’t win the admission lottery to an independent public charter school.

Turnaround schools are public schools once operated by a district that are now operated by public charter schools and continue to serve the attendance boundary. In 2008, Green Dot joined with teachers, parents, and the community to transform Locke High School, one of the most persistently low-achieving schools in California. Over the last decade, we’ve partnered with districts to lead six more turnaround schools across Los Angeles and Memphis, and now in Beaumont, TX.

Our transformation efforts at Locke were a turning point for Green Dot, this work challenged us and redefined our mission. Our experience at Locke helped us revamp our approach to academic interventions, accelerating learning, educator and school leader professional development. We created new systems and staffing models to address socioemotional barriers to learning and deeply invested in robust mental health supports and wraparound services to meet the evolving needs of all students.

This undertaking became a critical juncture for Green Dot and the students and families we serve. “The turning point honestly was my senior year when Locke transitioned to a Green Dot charter school. The beauty of Green Dot coming along to be able to work with Locke and its community to support us and uplift us in the way that it did,” reflected Micheal McElveen, Locke alumnus. “It really helped me stay on track so that I was going to be able to stay the path and actually make that jump to college.”

We believe that students don’t need saviors, they need believers. Our work in district partnerships and school turnarounds has reinforced our belief in the inherent power of our students and communities. “We didn't fix Micheal. We supported him and he let us support him,” Reflected Stephen Minix, former Green Dot educator. At Locke, Micheal was surrounded by a community of support and services and adults on campus had access to new tools and resources to better serve students. A UCLA study found that students who attended Locke were 1.5 times likely to graduate.

In 2011, Green Dot partnered with Los Angeles Unified School District to operate Henry Clay Middle School. At the time, Henry Clay was one of the lowest-performing middle schools in California. Now known as Ánimo Legacy Charter Middle School, the school has demonstrated remarkable improvement with cohorted student growth outcomes beating statewide results. Based on 5th grade CAASPP results, students typically enter Ánimo Legacy in the 10th and 14th percentiles of English Language Arts and math performance. To help students reach their full potential, educators at Ánimo Legacy identify each student’s needs and areas of growth. Using a combination of high-quality instruction, individualized support, and technology-based intervention tools, educators have been able to accelerate student growth across the school. The results have been astounding. According to CORE, Ánimo Legacy students are growing more than 75% of their peers in ELA and over 95% of their peers in math. Across the network, our middle school model ensures that regardless of where a pupil may start, they’ll leave middle school on track for high school success.

Lessons for Life

In 2014, Green Dot was invited to Memphis to help transform schools in the bottom five percent statewide and to improve outcomes for all students at Fairley High School, Hillcrest High School, Wooddale Middle School, and Kirby Middle School. Core to our model is creating systems and programs for students to explore the many facets of leadership.

As a Green Dot student, Hillcrest alumnus Nicholas Whiteside developed and strengthened leadership skills inside and outside of the classroom. “Green Dot gave me a platform to be a student leader at a high school level. They gave me insight into how to be a servant leader,” said Whiteside. His passion for leadership has only grown, at Fisk University, he has served as class president, business manager of the student government association, and Student Director for the Center For Financial Advancement (CFA). After graduating he hopes to expand upon his passion and explore a career in politics.

As educators we know it’s critical that we leverage the cultural wealth of students and our school communities. Memphis is synonymous with music, the city has gifted the world some of its greatest music. When we began leading our Memphis schools, the music programs were long neglected. Despite their city’s rich history, students had little means to carry forward this legacy of musical greatness. Over the years we’ve made strong investments in reinvigorating each of our school’s music programs and other extracurriculars so that students have the opportunity to connect with their city’s music heritage, explore their passions, and develop key life skills.

For Fairley alumnus Melvin Howard, being a member of his school’s marching band was a life altering experience. Participating in Fairley’s music program provided Howard with an opportunity to be a part of something much larger than himself. Through marching band, he formed strong familial bonds, acquired a deeper appreciation for the arts, and inherited life skills that would aid him through his adult life. “Mr. Cowans always taught us to give 110% in everything-- and always take pride into anything that we did,” reflected Howard.

The music program at Fairley challenges students to look beyond their self-imposed limitations to tap into their latent potential. While compassionate and supportive, Fairley music teacher, Michael Cowan’s like all Green Dot educators, consistently raises the bar and holds all students to high expectations. "I would always tell them, when you get out in the real world I want you to be over prepared," said Cowans.

Rigorous, college-prep-focused, academic programs combined with small class sizes, and individualized supports have yielded great progress. Under Green Dot’s Leadership, Hillcrest and Fairley have seen growth in completion and retention rates and academic achievement. Notably, Kirby Middle School, and Wooddale Middle School – all achieved Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) scores of 5 on the state’s most recent assessment.

At each of our transformation schools we’ve partnered with families and the communities to build upon the existing work and rich histories of each school and create learning environments that truly prepare all students for college, leadership, and life.