School Reform Model: East Lake Schools

School Reform Models

For the last 100 years, school reform models in the United States have been hotly debated. The basic premise for how schools should be designed bounces back and forth between a back to basics design and a new trend design. In the 1920s, that meant you were an advocate for back to basics if you used a school efficiency design or a new trend educator if you used a progressive design. Although advocates over the years argue for one or the other, most schools exhibit, or have characteristics of both. Today, I want to point you to a model that defies easy duality definitions—and perhaps the definition of holistic design will do for now because it has characteristics of both efficiency and progressive designs, and adds the holistic component of connecting schooling to community in order to address intergenerational poverty.


The definition of “model” in school reform relies upon those characteristics that can be replicated in other locations. Since building schools and reforming schools is a non-science, the extent to which we can talk about replications must be considered under the social sciences. Not exactly a science, but we can use parallel characteristics of school reform efforts and they can help us compare and contrast reform efforts.


Ten years ago school people and community developers teamed up to build East Lake into a thriving community. Their model:

“Our model is a three-pronged approach to change with high quality mixed-income housing; a cradle-to-college education pipeline; and community wellness programs, all guided by a Community Quarterback leadership group. Together, they create our holistic approach to community revitalization. Learn more about our model and approach.

Purpose Built Communities


“As word of East Lake’s success spread, other philanthropic civic leaders expressed interest. Purpose Built Communities was established in 2009 to replicate the East Lake model in other urban areas of concentrated poverty around the nation. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett and former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson joined Mr. Cousins in backing the organization. Purpose Built Communities is now involved with numerous similar initiatives across the country, providing a blueprint for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty and building brighter futures.”

Purpose Built Communities

“Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin joined the team in 2010 and serves as Executive Board Chair. Today, Purpose Built Communities is helping to make a positive impact in some of this country’s most challenging neighborhoods. We are working with our Network Members to lead comprehensive redevelopment initiatives in more than a dozen communities across the country, and exploring initiatives in more than 20 additional communities.”

Purpose Built Communities


“The seeds for success were planted in Atlanta, Georgia in 1995 when local real estate developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins learned that East Lake Meadows was a place without hope, and committed to changing the conditions and destinies of the people living there.”

—Purpose Built Communities

Mr. Cousins partnered with Atlanta Housing Authority President and CEO Renée Glover, resident leader Eva Davis, and local business leaders to undertake the monumental task of revitalizing the neighborhood. This devastated neighborhood was home to some of the worst crime rates in the country, rampant drug use, a substandard school, and extreme poverty.

—Purpose Built Communities

Extreme Poverty Needs Our Help

It is important to see that this change is not scientific, does not come with a manual, and is difficult to replicate. However, the path is clear and the ingredients for success are a community quarterback such as a school, a re-developing neighborhood, and a strong commitment to partner over the long run.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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