Case Study of a Public School Turnaround

Once the eighth lowest-performing middle school in the state, Cochrane Collegiate Academy reversed course and is swiftly raising student achievement by investing in research-based teaching strategies, enhancing teacher excellence, and fostering strong relationships. Read the article.

Once the eighth lowest-performing middle school in the state, Cochrane Collegiate Academy reversed course and is swiftly raising student achievement by investing in research-based teaching strategies, enhancing teacher excellence, and fostering strong relationships. Read the article.

Release Date: 11/30/11

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Lessons from a Public School Turnaround (Transcript)

Joshua Bishop: In the 2006, 2007 school year, we were listed as one of the 30 worst performing schools in the state of North Carolina.

Rosalyn Alston: The things that I saw when I got here were children just running up and down the halls, hollering, screaming, just a level of almost mayhem.

Joshua Bishop: A fair amount of them come without any resources at all. Some days our children go home and they may not have a home to go to. Some days our children go home and there may not be food.

Shana Oliver: There was a lotta teacher turnover back then and I think we were in a mentality where it was just about teachers surviving.

Vicente: There used to be bullies. Like the bullies, like make you scared, like you didn't even want to look at them, because they were like, "You have a problem?"

Shana Oliver: Back at that time, it kinda felt like the students were running the school in a sense.

Angela Johnson: I quit my first year here, because it was just so difficult for me.

Shana Oliver: We had a principal that came in, maybe in September, October of the school year. She spent the first couple of months just identifying everything that we needed to change about the school. Number one thing is, we had to look at our staff. If you weren't here for the kids, this wasn't the place for you.

Angela Johnson: The new principal who came in at the time, she called me and she said, 'Miss Johnson, we really need you. We know that you're a phenomenal teacher. Could you please just come back?' And my only request from her was if I come back, something has to be different.

Shana Oliver: Then once we got all of the right people, that's when we began to look at what we were doing in the classroom and why our kids weren't getting it. And we found the root of that to be the way that we were teaching our students.

Teacher in classroom: Once we go over each of these big pieces of the lesson planning process, you need to go back to your plans and adjust. Implement whatever we've learned in the session, correct it, revise it, do whatever that may be.

Shana Oliver: Four teachers from our school went to a training in Atlanta to look at this new instructional model, and that's when we brought in the non-negotiables.

Teacher in classroom: (Here's the) essential question and then we have our key vocabulary. Then we went to essential and hot water thinking questions, which we spent time on.

Joshua Bishop: I think the biggest thing that we've had to focus on here is creating a professional development plan that's consistent. What does research show that really works? And then being consistent in the implementation across multiple years.

Shana Oliver: 'How do you craft questions?' will be one question, and then what?

Shana Oliver: How do we challenge our students?

Teachers, repeating: How do we challenge our students?

Angela Johnson: Now we have collaborative learning where students are on board, and they are participating. And they know what to expect. So there's a huge difference between what it was like four years ago and now.

Student 1: And how like they dress or do something in public. So they're sagging, or something like that? And like the stereotypical ways, like they come from a bad home or they're like around bad people or something like that.

Angela Johnson: Okay, so you answered two questions in one. You talked about the character motivations and then you went into one of the hot Qs, which was generalizations and stereotypes.

Shana Oliver: If I were to give some advice to any teachers, staff, schools that are in our situation or similar, the one thing that I would tell them is, you have to be intentional about building relationships with your students, so that they will want to work and want to be successful. It feels good when you can walk around every classroom and kids are engaged. It's a great thing when students talk about teachers that they have good relationships with.

Labria: I think the teachers here, they are so hands on, and they'll come to you. And I think Miss Johnson cares a lot.

Teacher: What is that?

Student 2: That looks like a cloud.

Labria: Yeah. Do the little ruffle thingies.

Angela Johnson: Maybe you can put layers of those.

Student 3: Okay.

Labria: Because--

Angela Johnson: Okay, good.

Joshua Bishop: It's all about relationships for us. Having those relationships with our staff, with each other and with our students, that's what works. That's what makes a difference here at Cochrane.

Angela Johnson: The reason why I do what I do is for my students. If I didn't get the results that I got, if I didn't see their faces every day, there would be no point in me being here. The gift that I receive, more so than monetary gifts, is knowing that my students are empowered.


Video Credits


  • Zachary Fink


  • Mariko Nobori


  • Daniel Jarvis

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely


  • Hervé Cohen
  • Zachary Fink

Production Assistant

  • Brett William Hunter

Graphic Design

  • Maili Holiman

Video Programming Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Executive Producer

  • David Markus

© 2011 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All Rights Reserved

Comments (7)

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Editor and Publisher, Livingston Parent Journal

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Good work,Josh,Shana, the teachers and the students.

Edu Consultant. Blogger & Social Media Marketing at Edutopia

Very Moving piece. As a

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Very Moving piece. As a former school principal I'm thrilled to know that a woman, got the ball rolling:Dr. Valarie Williams! (No offense guys.) And that when she moved on Josh, you were able to make a somewhat seamless transition. Many of the things you are doing at Cochrane Collegiate Academy, I too implemented at the schools where I was principal. Good implementation strategies are good no matter where you are in the world!
Bravo to you and your faculty for all their dedication.
Bravo to the kids for believing that they can BE better!

Author, Consultant, Teacher, Coach

Thanks! Very helpful

Was this helpful?

Thanks for taking the time to spell this out. I am not surprised that the rigor issue was important. This is arguably the most overlooked aspect of reform, especially at the middle grades. And a tight focus on these 3 elements sends a powerful message. Differentiated staff meetings - very cool; makes sense. Congratulations on your achievements; may they continue!

Principal at Cochrane Collegiate Academy a Charlotte Mecklenburg School

Grant - Cochrane has made

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Grant -
Cochrane has made tremendous growth and we still have ways to go, so let me try to answer a few of your questions. The state of North Carolina is a Right to Work state and limits the use of unions. My predecessor, Dr. Valarie Williams, was very clear in her priorities. If you were not here to provide quality instruction to children than this is not the place for you. Those that stayed continue to have a commitment to our school and to quality instruction. They really welcomed the change and structure.
I started at Cochrane as an assistant principal with Dr. Williams. When she left, I was promoted to the principal position. Having some idea of the transition process that had just occurred, I looked at what was working and decided to build upon those strengths rather than come in with my own agenda. We focused our Professional Development on providing quality instruction, the use of data and how it impacts instruction, and most recently on the level of rigor in the instruction and student work. By focusing on these three items and consistently building upon them, we have been able to quickly gain buy-in with the staff because they have seen its success. So many times in schools we try the “shotgun” approach to PD and as you stated it is generally pretty ineffective. This year we have modified our approach, in that once a week, PD is provided to the entire staff during their planning period. During our monthly faculty meeting, we differentiate by providing two different PD themes and allow the teachers to choose which PD may best benefit instruction in their classroom. As a final note, once appointed principal, I completed an entry plan which allowed me to create goals along with steps needed to accomplish them. This was extremely helpful in focusing my attention. I hope that this has helped provide some clarity.

Author, Consultant, Teacher, Coach

Lighten up, Penny

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C'mon, Penny - 2 minor mistakes in a multi-page lesson plan. Let it be. A bit rash to say something is 'seriously wrong' here.

As for the report and samples - very helpful. We certainly get a sense of how the school is different and what features made it so. But I don't feel that we were helped to understand a key fact - who stayed and who left among the faculty; how those who stayed accepted the changes; and how the pD worked in such a short time. Most PD is pretty ineffective; what was done here to make it work so well so quickly? (And what about the union?)

I found the content of the lesson plan a tad troubling. Highly directive in a low-level way, no sense of what the assessments were going to be, and I imagine dutiful and engaged kids but not necessarily more able kids.

Something's amiss

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I just quickly read over the sample lesson plan, ostensibly written by a teacher of English, and found an abbreviation error, incorrect possessive formation and incorrect word usage (roll instead of role!).

Something is seriously wrong here...

Semi-retired educator who loves technology

Yes We CAN! (Make a difference)

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I'm sure there is more to this story. I'm sure that this didn't happen without a great deal of angst and turmoil and tears and frustration. But, I'm also sure that this story is further proof that the most important piece to this puzzle is, as the article says, the PEOPLE! Someone became determined to turn it around, and it did. Some ONE person had the idea, and made it happen.

It's stories like this that force us to rethink our positions of hopelessness. Decide to change things, get the right people on board, and things change!

Congratulations to EVERYONE involved in this turnaround.

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