A History in the Making
Every strategic decision that Green Dot has made since its founding has been fueled by the unique tension inherent in our mission: sustaining a model that consistently provides maximum benefits to our students while increasing the scale of our impact to influence systemic change.
The Early Years
In 1999, Green Dot Public Schools was founded to demonstrate an alternative model of public school education that could deliver better results with the same resources in the most underserved communities in Los Angeles. During the first five years, we opened five public high schools; among the first charter schools in the city.
Focusing Our Strategy
While the first five schools rose to success, it became clear by 2005 that the legally required lottery enrollment process at independent charter schools was constraining our ability to reach all those who could most benefit from our model. As a result, we sought to lead a traditional enrollment boundary school so that we could reach those students who didn’t win the lottery: Thomas Jefferson High School, one of the most persistently low-performing schools in California. Though our initial plan for Jefferson was not approved, we opened several high schools in the immediate vicinity to provide families with high quality alternatives to Jefferson, and used the experience to build the foundation on which future achievements would be built.
Broadening Our Impact
The experience of turning around Locke highlighted the enormous challenges faced by teachers and school leaders tasked with preparing the most at-risk students for college in just four years. As a result, Green Dot developed a middle school strategy with the purpose of providing students with a seven year pathway to college and accelerating attainment levels among incoming high school freshman. We opened our first middle school in 2010 and continue to open middle schools alongside our high schools to provide students with earlier pathways to success.
Meanwhile, we looked at a future beyond Los Angeles. For years, other states and districts had sought Green Dot’s advice in turning around struggling schools. After careful analysis of the national landscape, we chose to pursue offers to open schools in Tennessee and Washington State. In Tennessee, the Achievement School District (ASD) is an ambitious project that invites highly-effective operators to turn around the lowest performing 5% of schools in the state; the majority located in Memphis. ASD provides an opportunity to be a leader in a wide-scale, systemic reform effort that expands Green Dot’s potential impact well beyond our own schools and students. Meanwhile, Washington, as one of the most recent states to adopt new charter laws, represents an opportunity to work within a charter landscape founded on the learning and best-practices of twenty years of national education reform. Both regions allow Green Dot to fulfill its core mission to improve educational opportunities for all.
In 2008, after two years of work with teachers and the local community, Green Dot won the right to operate Alain LeRoy Locke High School in Watts, an enrollment boundary school that had failed to maintain the success of its early years and had become one of the most persistently low-achieving schools in California. Green Dot reorganized the campus into several small learning communities serving the same student body. The turnaround of Locke towards its former success represents one of the most ambitious school improvement efforts attempted in the country. Subsequent research by the Center for Research, Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA has proven the enormously beneficial impact of the Green Dot model on students’ academic performance. As a result of the success at Locke, LAUSD awarded Green Dot the management of Henry Clay Middle School, the worst performing middle school in California, and David Starr Jordan High School, the lowest performing high school in Los Angeles. Today, Green Dot is widely considered the most experienced school turnaround operator in the country.