Extreme Schools: How Title 1 Miracles Happen Every Day


Our featured “Extreme School” is one of the nation’s largest Title 1 elementary schools in the country. At one time, it had 2,000 students. Today, the district helped reduce the student load to “only” 1,000 students. Many of the students come from a community of poor and immigrant families. Almost none speak English when they arrive.

How does this school perform?


The two biggest challenges for academic success are: 1) poverty and 2) non- English speaking students. This school has BOTH issues. Most of the school’s nearly 1,000 students come from immigrant Central American and Korean families. The data shows over 90 percent of the students were living below the poverty level, and ALL were from immigrant families, with a language other than English as a first language. You think your school has ELL issues? This school would rank right up near the top in ALL challenges.

If this were your school, how would you react? Would you find another school to work at, one less challenging? Or, could you honestly say you would do everything possible to make miracles happen at this school? After all, teaching is easy. Teaching well is hard.


The story is about one amazing Title 1 teacher who made a difference in the entire school. He changed the culture and changed the lives of thousands along the way.

Today, the school staff is not perfect, but pretty amazing. First, the staff knows there are no excuses for underperforming students. The staff KNOWS that every kid can achieve.

How do they know that?

Because one courageous 5th grade teacher dared to show them that anything is possible. One teacher lit up the whole school and said, “It’s possible!”

This teacher could have moved on to another less challenging school. He could get a teaching job anywhere, at any school in the country. Principals would “invent” a job just to have him on board.

His teaching honors include the Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, a Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University, Oprah Winfrey’s $100,000 “Use Your Life Award”, Parents Magazine’s “As You Grow Award”, National Medal of Arts, and an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. He’s authored a best-selling book on teaching, and he’s an idol to his students. In short, he’s famous.

But, being a rock star doesn’t make one a fabulous teacher. He has the heart of champion, he’s a lifelong learner and has the energy of T-Rex on steroids.

So, what exactly does he do to help ELL and kids from poverty score with the top kids in the district?

First, let’s review: he starts with kids that have trouble speaking English AND come from poverty AND have parents that rarely get involved (if at all).

To teach English (social skills, language, memory and self-confidence), he uses the vehicle of theater. His kids perform as Shakespearean actors (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zettDkJ1FUA) and score in the top 5 percent on state standardized academic achievement tests, plus go on after high school to attend universities all over the country.

Known as the Hobart Shakespeareans, the students (10 years old!) perform at Shakespeare festivals round the country. The young scholars also recite American History, play rock and roll music and learn algebra.

His kids get intensive learning mixed with kindness, social skills and fun. Students voluntarily come an hour early (6:30 AM) and often stay until well after 5 PM. They often return to visit their class during school vacation breaks. Learning is grounded in the arts, which includes studying a musical instrument (something I always push) and each class does one of Shakespeare’s plays for the entire year. Notice they are doing the same things I am always telling you: arts will build cognitive and social skills.

This teacher leads his class of fifth graders through an uncompromising and challenging curriculum of English, mathematics, geography and literature. Students who maintain an “A” average in school and earn top marks on Saturdays qualify to tour colleges each year. Kids learn math by participating in a classroom economic system using money. They get geography by taking field trips all over the country and around the world (the teacher gets grants to do this). His 10-year-old kids study Shakespeare, economics and prepare for college entrance examinations.

His back is up against the wall: he has a lack of involvement from parents who are poor (and sometimes illegal immigrants) without much education themselves and who aren’t able to (or don’t know how to) stimulate their children’s intellectual and educational interests. But, instead of making excuses, he solves the problems and charges ahead.

To build hope, former students come back and talk to the current students about coming back from Princeton or U.S.C. or U.C.L.A. or the university they are attending. Then, the current children realize, ‘Hey, this could be me.’ They really start to see how what they do now affects their life later.” Do you do hope-building like that?

Are you inspired? I was! Any other teacher who has the “growth mindset” of success would also be inspired. Only those who resent other’s success would find this annoying. If this teacher can do this, why not your staff?


This school is keeping up with every state and national goal. Every single ethnicity usually meets the statewide academic achievement goal of 800 or more. The API (The Academic Performance Index) dropped a measly 3 points from last year, but the school overall has done well for the last ten years.


Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, L.A. Unified School District.
Principal: Jonathan Paek and Asst. Principal: Patricia Choe
980 S. Hobart Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90006
PH. (213) 386-8661


The Florida school which won the” Extreme School” contest for a complimentary day of staff development will be primed and ready for the August session. We thank all the entrants; we’ll do the contest again next year. Maybe I will be coming out to your school next!


Now, you’ve read about another “Extreme School” success story, we have a question for you. How many school successes (or teacher successes) do you need to see and hear about before you BELIEVE that it can happen at your school? And, if there’s anyone on your staff that does not think it can happen, please forward these monthly bulletins to them.

Second, what can you learn from the true story mentioned above? The only good that happens in this world is when you move things from inside your brain to the outside world. What ideas, principles or strategies were either affirmed OR, what was new to you today? Could this be a topic of discussion at your next staff meeting?

Finally, miracles do happen every day. Are you ready to one of them?


If your Title 1 school has an “Extreme School” story to tell (whether you have moved up or are currently struggling, please email me your story to: info@jlcbrain.com. In the subject line, put “Extreme School” story. Thanks.

Your partner in learning,

Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen

1 reply
  1. Bambang
    Bambang says:

    We have tremendous rcsouree invested in tech. The equipment and infrastructure make the sky the limit in our district, but there is little inservicing in the possibilities that tech has to offer. We have laptops, projectors, desktop computer labs, COWs, computers in nearly every room, an onsite TV lab, and the list goes on. Without inservicing too many teachers are left out of the tech loop.

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