But progress is coming at considerable cost: an estimated $15 million over the planned four-year turnaround, largely financed by private foundations. That is more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school. Skeptics say the Locke experience may be too costly to replicate.
Wow. And that's just one high school (albeit with, gulp, 3200 students).
So what did they do? Pretty much common sense stuff like:
He put together a new security force to expel the gangs. Green Dot fixed the lights and cameras, painted over graffiti, reorganized the parking, and hired bus companies to transport 500 students who previously walked dangerous streets to school.
Green Dot divided Locke into small academies. Several, modeled on the charters it operates elsewhere, opened in fall 2008 with freshman classes of 100 to 150 students and are to reach full enrollment of 500 to 600 students by fall 2011.
Other academies concentrate on remedial classes for older students, including some returning from jail. Another focuses on preparing students for careers in architecture.
The Obama administration is looking to makeover the nation's worst 1,000 schools with about $3.5B. But that is a lot less than Green Dot is spending via private foundations.
Senator Al Franken asked the big question at a Senate hearing:
“I’m thinking, how scalable is this?” Mr. Franken said.
Because the needs, and their costs, are staggering.
Over the four years, Green Dot is set to spend about $2 million on increased security and busing. It spent about $700,000 to create a classroom for a new architecture academy.
Green Dot has also spent several million dollars for additional classroom space because hundreds of students who had cut school or dropped out now show up for class, Mr. Petruzzi said.
Dividing Locke into academies resulted in extra personnel costs, Mr. Petruzzi said, because each academy has its own principal and other staff members.
Another cost: the salaries of two psychologists and two social workers who help students endure hardships like losing a sibling to gang warfare, or being evicted. They have helped prevent several suicides this year, said Zeus Cubias, an assistant principal.
So is it worth it?
Experts are debating whether Locke is a good model for other turnarounds.
Justin Cohen, a turnaround expert at MassInsight, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization, said most districts could expect to spend $2 million to $3 million over three years to overhaul a failing school. Costs often include teacher training and extending the school day, he said.
Another expert stated the obvious - pay now or pay for a lot of those students to be in prison.
It is grievous, though, that so much money has to go to save these schools because there are the next tier up of schools that really need help. How did we let so many schools slip away? Should the Obama administration be asking corporations to "adopt a school" in order to save more schools? And would that even be enough?