Thanks to a groundbreaking study, we now know what it takes for public schools in any rural or urban environment to help kids experiencing poverty and those of color achieve academic success and create the foundation for students to successfully contribute to our society.

This should give us hope and confidence that working strategically and thoughtfully, we don’t have to accept that a high percentage of these students are going to be left behind. But we won’t get there unless our schools learn the lessons from the 38 rural and urban schools from elementary to high school that have found innovative ways to see sustained progress by these students.

That’s the point of the Outlier Study by the Center for Educational Effectiveness (CEE), which used data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to track student achievement by students of color and those experiencing poverty over a five-year period.

Rufus Woods

Rufus Woods

The subtitle of the study: Illuminating the Strengths of American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, Latino/a and Students Experiencing Poverty” speaks to the strengths-based mindset behind the research.

The study was financed by a Gates Foundation grant and there are some key North Central Washington ties to this study. The grant is being administered by Dr. Gene Sharratt, former superintendent of the North Central Educational Service District and one of the key staffers is Erich Bolz, a Wenatchee product and the son of retired educator Dennis Bolz.

Besides the data, the study included interviews with administrators, staff and some parents to tease out what common elements exist for helping these students achieve success.

So how are these exemplary schools achieving success when the rest of the 2,400 school districts are not?

The heart of the matter seems to be that successful schools create a culture of achievement through high standards, use creative approaches to engage parents, provide social and emotional support for the students, foster a culture of life-long learning among staff members and pay attention to the data that shows how their students are performing.

Speaking with John Stearch, the CEO of CEE, it seemed that these students are capable but most schools haven’t figured out how to meet their needs. The study found that fostering stronger relationships and collaboration is crucial.

Steach talked about the concept of “equity as ownership” that emerged from the study. Powerful learning happens when students have “ownership over the decisions and in the systems,” he said.

The study demonstrates that successful schools have leaders rather than managers in administration. “When you look at the leadership, it’s almost always servant leadership in the schools,” said Steach. “You don’t see any top down. You don’t see any authoritarian leadership. There’s a lot of vulnerability and a lot of serving the students and the families.”

Bringing this to a more practical perspective, just look at the success of Bridgeport High School under Principal Tamra Jackson. The school, which exceeds 90 percent in Latino/a population and has 100 percent of its students on free or reduced lunches, has shifted from being in the lowest 5 percent in 2000 to a national and state model of success with perhaps three quarters of their students taking advanced placement tests.

Bridgeport is one of the outlier schools identified in the study, as is Brewster. If you want to learn more, check out the Outliers in Education podcast interview with Jackson and Brewster Superintendent Eric Driessen, focusing on “In your FACE (Families and Community Engagement).” All information about CEE’s study can be found at

The lessons of the Outlier Study can be used by any school or district to find its own approach to building a system that fosters success for all students based on its unique circumstances.

We know what works. All we need now is schools to step up and take the necessary steps to meet the needs of all their students, not just the ones that are easy to teach.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at or (509) 665-1162.