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Homegrown school turnarounds

President Obama is in Miami today, visiting an historically low-performing high school that pulled off a turnaround without the assistance of a for-profit corporation.

The school is Miami Central Senior High, which has improved its performance on Florida's school report card from an "F" to a "C," with intensive intervention by the school district. The effort sounds strikingly similar to what Fort Wayne Community Schools has done with its Leading Educational Achievement with Distinction program, targeting 11 low-performing schools.

"Miami Central is one of 19 schools in Miami-Dade County targeted as persistently low performers that needed a boost," according to CNN.com "These schools, called the 'Rising 19,' received $14 million as part of the Education Transformation Office. School officials said all the schools are showing improvement."

Over a two-year period, the Miami school replaced more than 50 percent of the faculty (Fort Wayne's LEAD schools did the same in one year's time).

But Miami Central also enjoyed financial support the FWCS schools did not. In addition to a share of the money from the transformation program, it received $800,000 in federal School Improvement Grant dollars. FWCS received no SIG money, nor did East Allen County Schools, which had hoped to use the money in turnaround efforts in the Harding-area schools.

Here's hoping President Obama won't miss a key point in Miami Central's story. It didn't take a charter school takeover to improve the school. It didn't require the help of an out-of-state turnaround school operator. It wasn't necessary to close the school and give vouchers to all of the students to attend private or parochial schools. Public schools, with the right tools and support, can transform themselves. We're seeing it happen in Fort Wayne, with the active and enthusiastic participation of teachers and their union.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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