Case Studies

A+ Schools of North Carolina is an arts-based, school reform movement. Program evaluation results attributed the success and sustainability of A+ to the use of the arts in school reform, ongoing professional development, and the A+ network support.

In A+ schools, the arts are central to school reform and the school vision. To help achieve this vision, A+ professional development is framed by the A+ Essentials: Arts, Curriculum, Multiple Learning Pathways, Enriched Assessment, Experiential Learning, Collaboration, Climate, and Infrastructure. This process-based approach creates school environments that are unique and well-suited to the staff, students, and local resources. A+ Schools are in rural and urban contexts, serving very small and very large populations, and with a variety of student demographics.

The schools highlighted on the following pages are long-standing and highly engaged A+ schools, and the arts are central to the school identity. The schools were chosen, in part, because of their commitment to the A+ philosophy and essentials. All of the schools serve majority low-income populations and are deeply committed to the success of their students. Bugg is a large, urban school; R.N. Harris is a mid-size urban school, and Saluda is a small, rural school. All of the schools work within local and state requirements, and two of the schools have magnet programs that co-exist with the A+ Schools Program. Each school has adapted the A+ Essentials to local context and created a customized, arts-rich environment.

Bugg Elementary School: Creative Arts and Science Magnet


  • Joined the A+ Schools Program: 1995
  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • NCES Locale Characteristics City: Large
  • NC Dept of Commerce County Rank: Tier 3, Least Economically Distressed
  • Number of Students: 611
  • Number of Teachers: 60
  • Low Income Population: 65% – Free and Reduced Lunch
  • Major Demographic Groups: 76% – Black/African American, 8% – Hispanic/Latino, 8% – White
  • Magnet Focus: Creative Arts and Science
  • 2011-2012 NC Report Card: School of Progress; High Growth
  • Major Awards: Magnet Schools of America, Magnet School of Distinction (2008, 2012); Magnet Schools of America, Magnet School of Excellence (2009, 2010); Magnet Schools of America, Ronald P. Simpson Award (2004)

Sample Programs and Practices

  • College Bound. College Bound program and a Family University encourage first generation college students and their parents to envision a future that includes higher education. Student University, an extensive after-school program, offers academic support and electives in the arts and athletics. Arts electives, such as African drumming, chorus, violin, historical/cultural dances, step team, and drama.
  • Multiple Intelligences. School-wide emphasis on Multiple Intelligences that nurtures many kinds of intelligence, talents and abilities. The “MI Team” includes certified teachers in all four art forms – Dance, Music, Theatre Arts, and Visual Arts – as well as physical education, science, technology, and library/media.
  • Collaboration. Collaborative efforts to integrate curriculum, including annual arts field trips, artist residencies, and many opportunities to showcase student work in the arts. Gray Matter period allows teachers to collaborate to teach arts-integrated units.

Educators on the Benefits of A+

  • Student Achievement. “Our test scores go up by pouring on the arts. We doubled the specials last year and our scores went up 14% with the most growth in math and science.” – Principal, Bugg Elementary
  • Student Engagement. “Movement and hands on art experiences keep our children excited and engaged throughout the day.” – Educator, Bugg Elementary
  • Individual Differences. “Each student has the opportunity to thrive in his or her strength of area, as well as personally challenge him/herself to work through less comfortable areas.” – Educator, Bugg Elementary

R.N. Harris Integrated Arts/ Core Knowledge Magnet School

R.N. Harris-at-a-Glance

  • Joined the A+ Schools Program: 1997
  • Location: Durham, NC
  • NCES Locale CharacteristicsCity: Midsize
  • NC Dept of Commerce County Rank: Tier 3, Least Economically Distressed
  • Number of Students: 374
  • Number of Teachers: 30
  • Low Income Population: 82% – Free and Reduced Lunch
  • Major Demographic Groups: 62% – Black/African American; 31% – Hispanic/Latino
  • Magnet Focus: Integrated Arts/Core Knowledge
  • 2011-2012 NC Report Card: School of Distinction; High Growth
  • Major Awards: National Excellence in Urban Education Award (2012)

Sample Programs and Practices

  • Core Knowledge. E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum provides a framework for the magnet program and the organization of integration units. The curriculum is carefully integrated, spiraled, and sequenced over each grade level, with a heavy emphasis on science, history, literature and the arts. Unit themes like Western Expansion, Civil Right, Feudal Japan, and the Middle Ages are intended to develop deep content knowledge and cultural literacy.
  • Integrated Arts. A dual magnet focus is designed to allow Integrated Arts to complement the Core Knowledge curriculum. Students learn in a variety of ways and remain actively engaged in the arts as they learn rigorous content. The arts integrated strategies are evident in daily instruction.
  • Collaboration. The moderate size of the school, low staff turnover, and consistency of the curriculum allow close collaboration among staff members. The art teacher plans projects around the Core Knowledge themes, the music and dance teachers co-teach regularly to prepare students for performances, and the entire arts team offers support to classroom teachers as they integrate the arts into daily instruction.

Educators on the Benefits of A+

  • Confidence. “All students fi nd success in one of the arts areas which then helps them feel like they can transfer that to academics.” – Educator, R.N. Harris Elementary
  • Engagement. “A+ philosophy contributes to the success of my students because it allows them to make connections and be engaged while learning the curriculum.” – Educator, R.N. Harris Elementary
  • Assessment. “In my classroom we integrate the arts in every subject – in math, literacy and in science and social studies. I make sure that the kids can not only describe what we are talking about, but can draw it, dance it or use any other way of communication to get across the fact that they know the information.” – Educator, R.N. Harris Elementary

    Saluda Elementary School


    • Joined the A+ Schools Program: 1998
    • Location: Saluda, NC
    • NCES Locale Characteristics Rural: Distant
    • NC Dept of Commerce County Rank: Tier 2, Moderate Economic Distress
    • Number of Students: 160
    • Number of Full-Time Teachers: 11
    • Low Income Population: 57% – Free and Reduced Lunch
    • Major Demographic Groups: 89% – White; 8% – Hispanic/Latino
    • Magnet Focus: Informally known in the community as “The Arts School”
    • 2011-2012 NC Report Card: Honor School of Excellence; High Growth
    • Major Awards: National Blue Ribbon School (2012)

    Sample Programs and Practices

    • Community. With eleven teachers and a historic building on Main Street, the staff at Saluda work together as one team and also in close collaboration with the community at large. Every teacher works with all the children in the school, and community partners – many based on personal relationships – play a central role in the climate of the school. Assemblies and field trips are often whole-school events that include every child, often pairing younger students with older ones.
    • Curriculum. Teachers have tremendous freedom in designing curriculum based on student needs and interests. Textbooks and commercial materials are used as resources, but curriculum units are created by teachers. The arts are integrated into regular classroom instruction on a daily basis, and other subjects are integrated into the arts. Students receive PE/Dance instruction every day, art two times per week, and music three times per week – including instruction in keyboard and guitar for 3rd – 5th grade students.
    • Creativity. Honoring individual differences and allowing room for creativity is an important part of the infrastructure at Saluda. Students explore personal interests through an arts-rich, balanced curriculum, classroom strategies that encourage learning in many different ways, special units that explore interests, and opportunities to share with others.


    • Whole Child. “A+ made us teachers of children rather than teachers of subjects.” – Educator, Saluda
    • Well-Rounded. “Our Saluda students excel at the high school level. They are fine artists, musicians, actors and also well-read and are able to collaborate with their peers.” – Educator, Saluda
    • Connections. Integrating the Arts into other academic disciplines enables our students to “connect the dots” in their learning. I do not teach art as an isolated subject. Our children seem to truly appreciate that art is an integral part of their school experience. Their knowledge base really does enhance and enrich my art lessons/projects. – Educator, Saluda