Turnaround Spotlight: Green Dot Charter Schools

­­­Green Dot Charter Schools (Green Dot) opened its first school in 2000 with a single 9th grade class of 140 students. Now one of the top three largest charter school management organizations in the nation, Green Dot has grown to 21 schools, serving more than 10,000 students.

As one of the few charter management organizations nationwide that have taken on the difficult work of turning around large, very low-performing schools, Green Dot has achieved great success with schools all over some of the most impoverished schools in South Los Angeles. One of their most notable turnaround efforts started in 2007 at Alain Leroy Locke High School (Locke), one of the then lowest-performing schools in the city and state, and known by the community to be a dangerous school with a hostile learning environment. Locke used a simple approach of what they believe makes for a high-performing school (see the table to for the six elements) and over time saw lasting positive academic growth for all student attending Locke High School.

Green Dot Public Schools’ Six Basic Tenets

1. Small, safe, personalized schools

2. High expectations for all students

3. Local control with extensive professional development and accountability

4. Parent participation

5. Maximize funding to the classroom

6. Keep schools open later

Green Dot has demonstrated success, with graduation rates nearly twice that of neighboring public schools. The percentage of Green Dot students who graduate college-ready by California A-G requirements, is nearly four times that of neighboring schools and over twice the average for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The emphasis on college preparation is reflected in the high college acceptance rate, with 91 percent of graduating seniors getting accepted to college.

Green Dot teachers are unionized with a contract that gives broader autonomy to schools and provides more flexible union work rules than a typical union contract. Class size is one particular area of difference. The LAUSD union contract determines class size, and therefore hiring, down to the exact number of students. In contrast, Green Dot’s union contract requires a dialogue between the teacher and principal if the teacher’s class size exceeds 33 students.

Teachers at Green Dot do not have tenure, but they do have greater flexibility to create curriculum and greater control over the school budget. Students participate as well, with the school newspaper informing students of budget decisions and school advisory councils to communicate student opinions.

Green Dot has continued to expand beyond California and, by 2015, will have additional schools in Tennessee and Washington. To support this growing need for talented teachers and leaders, Green Dot provides different career ladder opportunities to staff. Teachers who demonstrate leadership can develop analytical skills as Data Fellows, receive training through the Teacher Leader Academy, or facilitate professional development as Teacher Leader Facilitators. Additional opportunities are also available for Green Dot staff through a year-long Administrator-in-Residence program.

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

Resources and references