Published: Sept. 12, 2016

University of Colorado Boulder's National Education Policy Center (NEPC) recently recognized 20 inspiring high schools across the U.S., as part of its  annual Schools of Opportunity project. The program identifies and recognizes excellent public high schools that actively strive to close opportunity gaps — the differences in opportunities and resources that drive the well-known achievement gaps, said NEPC Director and CU Boulder Professor Kevin Welner.

“Children learn when they have opportunities to learn,” said Welner, co-director for the project. “When those opportunities are denied, they fall behind.

Following last year’s pilot of the project, serving just Colorado and New York, the 2016 recognitions considered high schools from coast to coast. This year's winners included New Vista High School in Boulder, which allows students to shape the educational program to meet their needs and interests, as well as an innovative rural school in Vermont and a school serving international refugees in California.

“The project offers an alternative way of assessing school quality—one that rejects the idea that test scores identify the nation’s best schools,” said Carol Burris, co-director of the project. “Schools of Opportunity use research-based practices to support all students and their teachers, thereby creating engaged and successful learning environments.”

The review team — comprised of about 40 researchers, teachers, policy makers and administrators — based the “gold” and “silver” recognitions on specific principles identified in the book, “Closing the Opportunity Gap,” which was co-edited by Welner.

Applications went through four levels of screening, including rubric-based ratings and in-person evaluator visits to the recognized “gold” schools. Evaluators looked at school practices that fell into categories, such as create and maintain healthy school culture; broaden and enrich school curriculum; use a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs; and support teachers as professionals.

The eight Gold Schools of Opportunity in 2016 are:

  • Crater Renaissance Academy, Central Point, Oregon
  • Hillsdale High School, San Mateo, California
  • Leland and Gray Union Middle and High School, Townshend, Vermont
  • Rainier Beach High School, Seattle, Washington
  • Revere High School, Revere, Massachusetts
  • Rochester International Academy, Rochester, New York
  • South Side High School, Rockville Centre, New York
  • William Smith High School, Aurora, Colorado

The 12 high schools that earned Silver Schools of Opportunity recognitions in 2016 are:

  • Boston Arts Academy, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Cedar Shoals High School, Athens, Georgia
  • Clarke Central High School, Athens, Georgia
  • East Rockaway High School, East Rockaway, New York
  • New Vista High, Boulder, Colorado
  • Northwest High School, Germantown, Maryland
  • Oakland International High, Oakland, California
  • Ossining High School, Ossining, New York
  • Quilcene High School, Quilcene, Washington
  • Stillman Valley High School, Stillman Valley, Illinois
  • Urbana High School, Urbana, Illinois
  • Washington Technology Magnet School, St. Paul, Minnesota

To learn more about the schools, including descriptions for each, the project and the nomination process, visit

The Schools of Opportunity project is supported by the Ford Foundation and the National Education Association Foundation. The call for nominations for the 2017 Schools of Opportunity recognitions will launch in November 2016 and evaluations will take place in the spring. 

restorative justice team at Boulder's New Vista High School

The Restorative Justice (RJ) team at New Vista High School in Boulder. 

Students at New Vista High School

Each week in the spring, students and staff at Boulder's New Vista High School venture out into the community during "Service Week" to volunteer their time and contribute their energy where it is needed. Service projects range from spending time in elementary and pre-schools helping other students improve their reading, science and literacy skills; painting or landscaping on school grounds; working together to help complete a Habitat for Humanity home; teaming up with BCOS staff to pull noxious weeds, assist with fire mitigation, perform trail maintenance, ranch and farm maintenance; painting public murals; and helping with Community Food Share.



Students at Rainier High School holding a recognition banner

Students at Rainier High School in Seattle, Wash., holding a Schools of Opportunity recognition banner.

Children learn when they have opportunities to learn,” said NEPC Director and CU Boulder Professor Kevin Welner. “When those opportunities are denied, they fall behind."