- Shamrock Gardens Elementary School in North Carolina was a failing, high-poverty school that saw a successful turnaround by considerably building community over several years, rather than focusing on business strategies, reports The Washington Post, citing an article from education historian and advocate Pamela Grundy.
- Grundy explains that when the school started to be ranked on standardized test scores in the late '90s and categorized as low-performing, it became less appealing — and by 2005, more than 90% of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch and only 6% of the students were white.
- Efforts to modify faculty roles and bonuses, change academic schedules, and focus on test scores saw only marginal improvement, but when Shamrock looked toward Idlewild Elementary, which had a program dedicated to diversity, it shifted its approach to reintegrate the school "racially and economically" — finding longterm achievement with increased parent participation, more creative student extracurricular activities beyond standardized assessments, and a more diverse, joyful school environment that promoted learning.
Today, the nation's school system is more segregated than it was in the '70s. Due to neighborhood school zones, boundaries make it difficult for schools in high-poverty neighborhoods to get enrollees from well-off families — which also makes it difficult for those schools to get the monetary help they need to create the types of programs that would attract wealthier families and add to diversity. As it currently stands, more than 30% of the nation’s black and Latino population attends schools that are 90% non-white, and more than 30% of white students attend schools that are 90% or more white.
In schools and districts struggling with classifications as being low-performing and lacking in diversity, efforts at attracting wealthier families must begin with focusing on integration efforts. When states are not taking the steps needed to reconsider school zoning boundaries, schools can take action themselves by observing other examples of success. Shamrock Gardens Elementary School is a testament to this reality, as the school had already looked toward a counterpart that was effectively employing that strategy.
Similarly, Shamrock provides an example for other districts that focusing on business strategies is not necessarily the solution to go from a failing and high-poverty institution to a successful and friendly environment, particularly when the socioeconomic and racial profile of the surrounding neighborhood is being ignored. Through deliberate efforts at building the community and explaining the importance of integration to parents, Shamrock was able to bring the types of resources it needed to its programs and create more engaging learning environments. This is the type of infrastructure that is ultimately needed to improve student outcomes in the longterm, and it's something that district administrators, educators and decisionmakers in struggling districts should be paying attention to if they really want to make a difference for their students.