People that start great new high schools for urban kids must have a special place in heaven. Principals with the vision and persistence to open schools that propel low income kids into college are extraordinary people. Forming one of these institutions is decathlon of people and pedagogy, finance and facilities, communications and community.
What I really appreciate are people that started very good schools a decade ago and continue to work to improve their schools and extend their impact. They are honest about shortcomings, aware of emerging opportunity sets and use new school development to innovate and iterate.
Ten years ago, Diane Tavenner opened Summit Preparatory Charter High School in a former title company office in Redwood City California. The innovative small school with a powerful teacher development system was the result of three years of community conversations. Demand led to a second school, Everest Public HIgh School in 2009, and the formation of a network, Summit Public Schools, that will operate more than a dozen Bay Area schools in this decade.
When Diane visited Carpe Diem in Yuma in the spring of 2011, she immediately knew that the opening of two more schools in the fall would be a blended student-centered model. She called the contractor and told them to tear down walls. Summit’s new school, Denali, is a fully competency-based model that won an NGLC grant and will open in the fall.
As TFA corps members, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama founded the IDEA Academy as an after school program in Donna, Texas in 1998. They opened a charter school in 2000 and IDEA Public Schools was born. Tom and JoAnn’s network serves 13,000 students across 28 schools in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio and Austin. IDEA is committed to “College For All Children” and has sent 100% of its graduates to the college or university of their choice for six consecutive years.
Some might find that level of academic success enough, but Tom and JoAnn are pushing for even better results at scale. They began experimenting with a lab rotation model about 18 months ago. They turned their plans to blend and double in size into a $30 million RTTD grant. They will “data to drive innovation and improvement in ways we are only beginning to imagine,” and “increase productivity and sustainability for our teachers.”
A decade ago Marcy Raymond was leading KnowledgeWorks high school work. In 2006 she opened Metro Early College High School, a model STEM school in Columbus that anchors the Ohio STEM Learning Network of 12 STEM high schools. Raymond wanted to take what she learned back to Reynoldsburg, the district where she had been a chemistry teacher. She leads the eSTEM Academy and supports high school innovation work district and statewide.
These four leaders had, by eight years ago, achieved a career crowning accomplishment of running a great school. None were satisfied. Each saw more opportunity to help boost youth success. They viewed blended learning as an chance to innovate and iterate. Unlike superficial Tinkering Toward Utopia, these leaders are engineering powerful learning pathways. Driven by a passion for impact at scale, leaders like Diane, Marcy, Tom and JoAnn are transforming U.S. education.