(Note: In my original post I mispoke — I had written that we had gotten out of Year Five Program Improvement. Actually, It was Year Four).

Our school, Luther Burbank High School, learned today that we became one of the first, if not the first,  high school in California to make it out of Year Four Program Improvement Status. In other words, at least according to the state, we climbed our way out of what they consider rock-bottom.

I’ve got lots of issues with how schools are judged, standardized testing, and NCLB. It is nice, however, to be able to say that our school, the largest inner-city high school in Sacramento; one with (very roughly) a student population of about 1/3 Hmong, 1/3 African-American, and 1/3 Latino; and a school that has the largest number of English Language Learners in the region (over half of our students), was able to do this through making a priority of helping students….

…become life-long learners and not by focusing on teaching to the test.

… develop and participate in a strong relational culture by using Small Learning Communities so students and teachers could deepen relationships over a four year period.

…identify and strengthen student and parent leadership abilities.

All this was coordinated through a strong sense of shared vision among teachers, staff, students and administration. We’ve been lucky to have an exceptional principal, Ted Appel, over the past four years to lead this effort.

During my community organizing career prior to becoming a teacher, our broad-based community organizations were generally very successful at helping our members get access to affordable housing, jobs that paid a living wage with benefits, and other neighborhood improvements. In fact, we were typically more successful than most other groups whose sole focus was creating homes or providing job training.

That was because we were in the business of developing leaders, relationships, and life-long learners. We led with those goals, and the rest naturally followed.

I’d suggest the same philosophy can work with schools.