Five years ago, Sparks Middle School hit bottom. Its test scores were some of the worst in the district. A chain-link fence was locked after hours to prevent gangs from tagging the open-air hallways. Between classes, members of rival tagging crews would fight.
Word came down to the La Puente, Calif., school from the Los Angeles County Office of Education: We may shut you down if you don’t come up with a plan.
Sparks embarked on a makeover. Sherri Franson, the school’s new principal, took down the chain-link fence because she thought it made the school look like a jail. She lengthened the school day by 20 minutes, increased the number of periods from six to seven and hired two literacy coaches. Low-scoring students were required to take double periods of math or English. Every student received a “glory binder” and was taught how to take notes.