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In 2003, Dr. Freddie Thomas Middle School in Rochester, New York, was in serious trouble. In 2000, it had been labeled a "school under registration review" by the New York State Education Department and was under a directive to make significant progress or face serious consequences. Three years later in 2003, only 3% of eighth-grade students were meeting state standards in mathematics and only 9% in English language arts. The school climate was no better. There was little sense of order, and 911 calls were an everyday occurrence. The middle school had opened in 1995 with much fanfare. It was one of the new schools built with such hope in an area of extreme poverty in Rochester. After only a few years of this hopeful opening, however, the school was threatened to be closed. Within the first five years, three different principals were appointed to Thomas. The frequent changes in leadership did not allow for a consistent instructional vision or clear procedures for keeping order in the building. After only two years, three-fourths of the staff had to be replaced because of transfers out of the school and increasing enrollment. Many of the new hires were inexperienced first-year teachers. Within that environment of stress and disorder, there was confusion about roles and responsibilities and an inability to see beyond the immediate difficulties. Most painful was the lack of hope on students' faces as they entered each day. The few students who arrived on time coped by beginning each day with their heads down and hoodies up, making no eye contact with anyone. Today, Thomas is ranked in the top third of high schools in Rochester. Student achievement in mathematics and English language arts has risen substantially. Currently, no students have scored at the lowest level in these core areas. Thomas made adequate yearly progress in English language arts this year and, just as significant, has seen a considerable decrease in student suspensions during the last six years. This article describes how a focused and purposeful emphasis on connecting people, instructional practice, and a strong sense of community in three distinct areas--systems, culture, and instruction--turned a school without hope into an education dream.


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