Located smack dab in the middle of multiple rival gang territories in the South Central area of Los Angeles, Locke High School was reputed to be one of the toughest schools in L.A.'s unified school district.
Fights occurred almost daily and in May 2008, a brawl involving a reported 600 students broke out in the middle of campus. Police in riot gear were called in and chaos ensued.
With some of the lowest test scores and highest dropout rates in the country, Locke High, which sends only 5 percent of its entering ninth grade class on to four-year colleges and universities, seemed like a sinking ship.
Then, in 2008, Green Dot Public Schools, a privately-funded charter organization, which now runs 12 charter schools in the highest-need areas of Los Angeles, stepped in. One of its first moves: reaching out to the community on foot.
Watch "Nightline" Tonight at 11:35 p.m. to see the story of the school's transformation.
Rachelle Alexander, a new principal at Locke High School, led a team that knocked on doors, inviting students and parents to get involved in the classroom before the start of the 2008 school year. It's part of a larger strategy to build trust.
"If you can go into the toughest school, in the toughest area and make a turnaround, what it's going to do is it's going to create a political tipping point in this city, for all people in this city," said Steve Barr, founder and CEO of Green Dot.
The Los Angeles Unified School District's 2007 decision to give control of a public high school to the charter organization was not without its share of controversy. Green Dot took control of Locke, dividing the urban public high school into six academies, with the ultimate goal of transforming the culture. And with its 3,500 students, Locke was to be Green Dot's biggest test.
"Nightline" followed the school for a year as it underwent this major transition.
In an attempt to redefine the Locke's leadership, Green Dot fired all the school's original teachers in 2007 and made them reapply for their jobs.
"We felt like it was a slap to our face, when someone said they could do the job that no one else was doing," said Zeus Cubias, a Locke alum, who has been a teacher in the district for the last 11 years.
"So many of us who had been working here for many years, without even knowing, we fell into habits. Whether it was bad habits or just kind of the habit of not caring," Cubias told ABC News.
Cubias reapplied for his job and is now assistant principle of one of the Locke academies. Before the school year's start, he said that Green Dot had already breathed new life into Locke, welcoming parents and fostering the community.
"I don't think parents have ever been welcomed to this school before," he said, becoming emotional. "It's like -- almost like a combination of wanting to prove people wrong. It's like, I'm going to show you that everything you said about this place is not true. And for the first time I think we're going to do that."
In September 2008, the first day under Green Dot's operation, Locke already looked like a totally different school; security patrolled the campus, walls that were once covered in graffiti got a much-needed paint job, and new trees made the campus feel more like a college quad instead of the prison yard it had become.