Miracle Workers

It's one thing to crack NEWSWEEK's list with top facilities and handpicked students. But what about standout performance despite limited resources and a student body chosen by lottery?

Our top Transformative schools achieve results with this added challenge: taking students at all skill levels, from all strata, and turning out uniformly qualified graduates. Lessons abound.

The Preuss School, mostly Hispanic, on the UC San Diego campus, has a unique entrance requirement: parents who did not go to college. (All students qualify for subsidized student lunch—the only ranked school with that distinction.) To create a proper mindset, students take a homeroom on steroids—with tutoring, character building, and, eventually, SAT-prep and college-essay help—and keep the same teacher for grades six through 12, allowing them an intimate faculty-recommendation letter. (Ninety-five percent of seniors are accepted to college.) A longer school day and a 198-day year keep the entire student body on a single advanced track—and 120 UCSD tutors don't hurt.

Summit Prep Charter in Redwood City, Calif., which also hits our Transformative top 10, mimics many college calendars, with five courses in fall and spring, and then, for those on target academically, a single elective, from cooking to aikido, after each term. "Nothing magical," says director Todd Dickson, who sees 96 percent of kids get into college. "Just a lot more time and great teachers."