Two of the Nation’s Top Leaders Talk School Improvement with Students at Successful Turnaround School


Just a stones-throw away from Washington, D.C., Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore sits in the corridor of power and global influence in government, economics and education. That’s why it’s fitting that two of the nation’s top leaders sat down with students of Douglass High’s Academy of Global Leadership and Public Policy for a unique learning opportunity.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. engaged with students during a roundtable discussion about the new federal guidelines intended to assist states, districts and schools in developing solutions to enhance school climate, and improve school discipline policies and practices.

“Today was amazing. What a tremendous opportunity for our students to connect with top leaders to talk about their own student leadership in transforming their school,” said Principal Dr. Antonio Hurt. “Our students were excited and humbled.”

The school is one of Baltimore City Schools turnaround success stories. Through its Expanding Great Options initiative, BCS is creating more and stronger school options for students in all areas of the city by opening new schools, expanding high-performing schools, closing its lowest-performing schools and turning around struggling schools by strengthening them and giving them a new focus.

Douglass offers two unique early college academies: the Academy of Global Leadership and Public Policy, which focuses on the social sciences and developing leaders in government, industry and communities, and the Academy of Innovation, which focuses on creative thinking and design in a STEM-learning environment.

With the help of a $4.2 million federal School Improvement Grant (SIG), and in partnership with EDWorks, a KnowledgeWorks division, the 900-student school has cut that dropout rate in half and seen test scores rise dramatically since 2011.

In 2012, Frederick Douglass hit its state academic targets for the first time in 15 years and they did so again in 2013, with 19 percentage point gains in math and 17 percentage point gains in English since 2010.

“The secret to Frederick Douglass’ success is both simple and immensely difficult. It’s courage, and courage takes strong leadership,” said Harold Brown, President of EDWorks.”

While today’s student roundtable discussion was centered on national issues and ways to enhance school climate through school discipline policies and practices, Dr. Hurt, principal of Douglass and his staff are focused everyday on enhancing their school’s culture and creating greater opportunity for their students.

“While discipline is important, schools can get very different outcomes through student engagement, involving students in school activities, and providing a rigorous and relevant education program for all students,” explained Brown, President of EDWorks. “Douglass is a great turnaround example of that, with school administrators and teachers having a dramatic impact.’’

Readiness to Learn, Readiness to Teach, and Readiness to Act

“We envisioned a better place. The vision for school improvement and bringing that plan to fidelity begins with leadership,” explained Principal Hurt. “Leadership is throughout the building; not just a leadership position, but through student leadership, teachers and administrators.”

The Academies at Douglass are strongly supported with ongoing leadership support, professional development, effective resource management and alignment with district and community support.

The school enlisted the support of EDWorks, a KnowledgeWorks program, who started working with Douglass in 2010 to assist in developing an annual scope and sequence to drive effective school operations, a system of embedded, ongoing, on-site professional development with instructional and leadership staff, and progress monitoring and coaching in the use of data to drive a system of personalized instruction.

“Our school’s continuous improvement through our professional learning teams and ongoing coaching and support from EDWorks has led us to sustainable work,” said Principal Hurt. “We’re now in the national spotlight for our turnaround successes and these national leaders recognize those efforts by talking with our students about how they transformed their school.”

About KnowledgeWorks

KnowledgeWorks is a national nonprofit organization advancing a future of learning that ensures each student graduates ready for what’s next. For 20 years, we’ve been partnering with states, communities and leaders across the country to imagine, build and sustain vibrant learning communities. Through evidence-based practices and a commitment to equitable outcomes, we’re creating the future of learning, together.