Improving metropolitan school systems can be a Herculean challenge and it has defeated wave after wave of school reform initiatives. School leadership, teacher effectiveness and program excellence can make a difference, but so can demographic shifts affecting the student composition of the school.

Former Halifax school board superintendent Carole Olsen’s “Good Schools to Great Schools” initiative from 2009 to 2013 attempted to raise achievement standards and its successor, the “Priority Schools” project, targets 20 schools falling short of provincial standards and provides enhanced learning supports aimed at closing the achievement gap.

Yet the greatest gains in student achievement (based on an analysis of data from 2008 to 2016) were not registered by schools targeted for classroom learning supports, but rather by schools with either accelerated academic programs or community-based student support programs. Shifts in the socio-economic composition of neighbourhoods that schools draw upon were also significant contributors to improved student test scores.

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