Elliott Elementary in Lincoln, Neb., struck off on its own last year when it became the only school in the city to win money through the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program.
Winning wasn't something to be proud of, though: It meant the school qualified as one of the worst in the nation. About a third of fifth-graders at Elliott were proficient on state reading tests when the reforms began, compared to 80 percent in Lincoln as a whole.
Winning also meant a lot of work for teachers and administrators. One of the biggest tasks was overhauling the way teachers at the school are evaluated. Elliott was the only school in the city making the change, which meant it had to come up with a new way of rating teachers mostly on its own.
"The challenge was connecting it to student achievement," said Jadi Miller, named the principal at Elliott after a longtime principal was ousted to comply with the grant's mandate of new leadership. "That was certainly very new for us."