Columbus Collegiate Academy, one of six charter schools authorized by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, was recently awarded the “silver-gain” EPIC prize by New Leaders for New Schools for dramatic gains in student achievement.

New Leaders for New Schools launched EPIC — the Effective Practice Incentive Community – in 2006 to link principal and teacher incentive pay to the wide-scale sharing of effective educational practices. EPIC works with public schools in Memphis, Denver and the District of Columbia, as well as with charter schools in the National Charter School Consortium. Funded primarily through the federal Teacher Incentive Program (TIF), EPIC gives performance bonuses to school leaders and teachers in partner schools that are driving dramatic student achievement gains, and creates comprehensive case studies of their successes so that others can learn from them.

This open sharing of information among high-performing schools is the one of the most exciting components of the program, according to Andrew Boy, founder and co-director of Columbus Collegiate Academy.

Boy attributes much of his school’s success to borrowing from other top-performers and using what works. “We’re not about reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We’re always looking for best practices.” 

Columbus Collegiate Academy, one of just 22 charter school winners nationwide, will share the ingredients of its success via written documents, interviews, and videotapes, all which will be made available via EPIC’s web-based professional development platform to all participating schools.

There is plenty to learn from Columbus Collegiate, whose staff and school leaders led their inaugural class of sixth graders from just 35 percent proficient in reading and 41 percent proficient in math (as fifth graders) to 74 percent proficient in reading and 82 percent proficient in math, on the Ohio Achievement Tests, as sixth graders. These academic gains earned the school local recognition as the highest performing public middle school in Columbus, despite serving a student population that is 95 percent economically disadvantaged.

Columbus Collegiate’s recognition from EPIC places it among some of the nation’s top-performing charter schools; such as YES Prep, KIPP, Green Dot Public Schools, and the Mastery Charter Schools network in Philadelphia.

The best part of how EPIC picks winners, according to Andrew Boy, is how simple and laser-focused their selection process is. “It’s based only on student achievement data. No spin. No application fluff.” EPIC is concerned with one question -- how far did the schools move the needle on student achievement? – and rewards those achieving the most significant gains.  

Boy and his staff share that laser focus on raising student achievement, and posted remarkable results despite facing brutal fiscal conditions and myriad other obstacles related to starting a new school in frigid charter environment.

Columbus Collegiate students and parents recognize that their success is unique. “When they do the homework they send home the syllabus and every teacher has their phone number on there and they allow the kids to call them up until 8 o’clock. That is a blessing because me – I went to school just to graduate. This is a very on-hands staff. I’m thankful for this school,” said a parent with two seventh graders at the school.

The work of Columbus Collegiate Academy– and of all the 2010 winning schools – is a reminder that educating needy children to high academic levels is possible. And New Leaders for New Schools’ creation of a platform for best practices and widespread information-sharing might be a model for any district or state hoping to replicate the best practices of high-performing schools.

“CCA is one of the best schools that I’ve been to, so it really means a lot to me… this school will help you with your education more than any other school probably in Columbus, Ohio,” said one Columbus Collegiate sixth grader.

Photo above is of a Columbus Collegiate student; taken by Eric Ulas.

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