Published: Jan. 22, 2018

Health Sciences High & Middle College charter school in San Diego, Calif.

Health Sciences High & Middle College charter school in San Diego, Calif. offers extraordinarily rich STEM courses, one of the reasons it has been named a School of Opportunity. 

Project honors schools that create rich and equitable learning experiences for all students

One high school increased the number of students of color taking its AP and college-level courses sixfold in just a year. In another high school, where half of the student population is homeless or involved in the child welfare system, strong supports helped its students match New York City’s graduation rate. Yet another high school engages students in rich, college preparatory coursework in an unusual location—a working farm within the Chicago city limits.

These are the new Schools of Opportunity, recognized by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder for creating rich learning experiences for all of their students. The eight newly recognized schools join 37 other public high schools that are part of NEPC’s Schools of Opportunity network. These 45 Schools of Opportunity show us how equitable learning environments can exist right now and what we can learn from them, project leaders said.

“Hammond’s recognition as a School of Opportunity helps us communicate how our efforts to challenge students, support teachers, and connect with families create amazing, engaging learning opportunities and solid preparation for higher education,” said John DiPaula, the principal of new School of Opportunity, Hammond High School.

All eight of the new Schools of Opportunity have challenging and accessible curriculum as well as a healthy, supportive school culture. Yet there is no common profile—each school works to close opportunity gaps in its own unique way:

The new Gold Schools of Opportunity are:

The new Silver Schools of Opportunity are:

 To learn more about each school from New York to California, visit

NEPC evaluates schools on 10 possible criteria, with each school choosing six to address in the application. As part of the comprehensive evaluation, recognized schools go through a six-phase review process that includes a self-assessment; criterion-based and holistic reviews by school district and university experts and by past awardees; and site visits by project evaluators. Gold schools demonstrate exemplary practices on a minimum of three criteria, while silver schools demonstrate exemplary practices on at least two criteria. Each of the eight recognized schools was also required to earn advanced designations on at least two additional criteria.

“Through the carefully supported application and review process, schools learn a lot about themselves," said Linda Molner Kelley, Project co-director. "They have a chance to reflect on and accentuate their continual efforts to strive for improvement in the ways they serve their students.”

Adam York, the project’s manager, added that the mindset behind Schools of Opportunity recognitions is very different from other recognition programs. 

“We highlight the programs and policies that are closing the opportunity gaps that create achievement gaps," York said. "We want to hold up schools that use best practices to give all students an even chance to access meaningful learning opportunities.”

Sound familiar? Know of an amazing school? Nominations are now open for Schools of Opportunity

The Schools of Opportunity application cycle is already open. To learn more about this year's recipients, the project, or to nominate a potential School of Opportunity, visit to learn more. York encourages schools to take a look and consider how well their practices match those of current Schools of Opportunity. 

“We know there are unsung schools out there doing an outstanding job of serving their entire student populations, increasing challenging opportunities while attending to social, emotional and physical needs of students in order to support learning,” he added.