Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

In the midst of innovators….

Greetings from San Francisco! The NGLC K-12 team is here this week for our first annual school design institute, entitled “Design Breakthrough School Models.” As my colleague Sarah Luchs posted on Monday, we are thrilled to announce our newest set of Wave IV grantees—8 launch grants for new schools opening in September 2013 and 30 planning grantees for new schools opening in September of 2014. This week, we’ve brought all 30 planning grantees to the summer institute in partnership with CEE-Trust, a national organization focused on spurring innovation and blended learning in American cities. The school teams will spend the week delving into the details of developing new breakthrough school models, focusing on topics such as online content and assessments, new staffing structures, the integration of hardware and software, and financial sustainability. We have assigned each team a mentor to help lead them through their work.

I would challenge anyone who is pessimistic about the future of American public education—either district schools or charter schools-- to be a fly on the wall here in San Francisco. We have schools here from across America—from Piedmont, Alabama to Columbus, Ohio to West Allis-West Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We have schools here focusing on serving diverse student populations such as the New School for Men (geared for African-American boys), the Warm Springs K-8 School in Jefferson County Oregon (serving the local Native American population), and the Internationals School in Queens, New York (serving students who are new to the U.S). We also have school teams who are working to integrate a variety of educational models and philosophies to a blended and online world. For example, Boston’s Day and Evening Academy Version 2.0 is experimenting with a new physical activity and adventure model, combined with online learning. Similarly, the New Tech Network is piloting a model that will bring its well-respected project-based-learning to a blended environment.

A few cross-cutting themes have emerged this week from schools engaged in the work of starting new next generation schools. They include:

  • Embracing iteration, experimentation, and change. Keynote speaker Diane Tavenner, CEO of Summit Public Schools (and  a Wave IIIa  grantee) kicked off the event by advising the grantees to embrace a change management process that would allow for organizations to experiment and  iterate upon a model  in a way that develops buy-in among school stakeholders.  She warned school developers that unless you take risks, fail, and make changes, it is not a next generation model.
  • Focusing on human capital and using next gen as a way to promote teaching. Many of the most promising school models use blended learning to help increase the quality of the interaction between teachers and students. Technology provides the flexibility to re-think class staffing structures, student-teacher ratios, teacher roles and career ladders. Public Impact, the research and consulting firm, recently published a case study on Touchstone Education’s human capital strategy.
  • Blended learning as a mechanism to reach historically -underserved student populations.  Many of our successful grantees view online learning as a way to reach students who have not been successful in typical school settings. Online learning provides the flexibility to accommodate students who hold jobs and have family responsibilities that often make attending school from 7 am -3 pm difficult to achieve. Similarly, online learning can help personalize and differentiate instructions for students who may be behind grade level without making students feel singled out for being behind.

The proposed models for our planning grantees are truly exciting and, after meeting the entrepreneurs and innovators behind the ideas we are even more enthused about the schools they will create. Check out our website for a fuller description of each of the thirty school plans and please join me in congratulating these thirty teams for dreaming big and, most importantly, rolling up their sleeves to translate their dreams into reality.

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