Jennie Niles started her career as a science teacher at the famous Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. She now leads the equally famous E. L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington DC. The path in between could not have been better scripted: Yale for graduate school, a state department of education, a foundation, then New Leaders.

Like Leadership Public Schools in Oakland, E.L. Haynes is both a top performing school and an innovation hub. I usually recommend against schools developing software, but these schools routinely advance the field by producing important edtech innovations.

In 2004, Niles put together a great founding board including Jim Shelton, now Assistant Deputy Secretary at ED. The P-10 school serves 950 students and is adding a grade a year to become a graduating campus. Last year, 90 percent of the eighth graders scored proficient or advanced in math and 75 percent scored proficient or advanced in reading.

The first social enterprise to emerge from E.L. Haynes was LearnZillion, a professional development platform founded by former principal and Chief Academic Officer Eric Westendorf and former teacher Alix Guerrier. Today, LearnZillion announced the addition of 2000 Common Core lessons developed by a Gates Foundation funded “Dream Team” of 123 teachers.

LearnZillion received funding from NewSchools Venture Fund, the Achievement Network, O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, and Learn Capital (where I’m a partner). LearnZillion is now being piloted in more than 20 DC schools and 150 other schools throughout the country.

The second major innovation to emerge from Jennie’s school is SchoolForce, 15 open source learning management modules. Twenty-Five schools from New York to New Orleans serving more than 10,000 student use at least some of the modules.

“SchoolForce is a whole platform,” said Niles, “So there is technology support for all the steps in data-driven decision making including collaborative work tools, as well as tracking, storing, and analyzing capabilities, all within the same solution.”

Funded by grants, contracts, and some pro bono coding from Acumen Solutions, the modules include three versions of standards-based gradebooks, homework tracker, behavior tracker, meal tracker, and an attendance module. Jennie recognized early on that E.L. Haynes would benefit from the network effects of large user base and decided to make modules open source to encourage widespread adoption.

Niles has created a model school that benefits hundreds of students in the nation’s capital. The culture of innovation she created continues to spin out innovations that advance the field and benefit thousands of students.

For more, read “Driving School Choice Through Cloud Computing.”

This blog first appeared on EdWeek.



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