CityBridge is Changing the School Landscape in DC

The combination of energized knowledgeable teacher leaders and a grant program supporting whole school design will change the K-12 landscape in Washington D.C.
CityBridge Foundation was formed by Katherine and David Bradley in 1994. For the last dozen years it has served as a best practices shop for DC schools with an initial focus on early learning.
In 2013, CityBridge and NewSchools launched the Education Innovation Fellowship, a extraordinary opportunity for a dozen teacher leaders. They meet monthly for a year and visited innovative schools in New York and California. I met with the Fellows in June to discuss 10 Big Blended Learning Questions.  The Fellows will have learned everything we know about next-gen tools and models over the course of the year.  They brought their principals with them to three sessions to get them excited about the opportunity.  The Education Innovation Fellows are ambassadors for the implementation of effective blended learning models in D.C.
The Fellows are accelerating the conversation in a city that had a nascent interest in blended learning models:

  • In 2012, DCPS brought New Classrooms’ innovative Teach to One model to Hart Middle School.
  • Ingenuity Prep, a new public charter school operating on a blended model, opened in Ward 8 this fall.
  • DCPS is investing in the blended redesign of a four-school feeder pattern in Ward 8 over the course of 2013-2014 school year.
  • Rocketship Education, a charter management organization recognized nationally for its high-performing blended schools in California, received approval from the D.C. Public Charter School Board to open as many as eight schools beginning in 2015.

The Big Breakthrough.  In September, CityBridge announced Breakthrough Schools: DC, a whole school design grant program in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (see Getting Smart feature).
 Many of the Fellows have already created or joined teams to proposed new or transformed schools.  The combination of training teacher leaders and then offering whole school design grants is a unique and potent combination.
The Breakthrough Schools planning grants will likely go to an interesting mixture of district and charter schools, new and redesigned schools, and led by locals as well as a few national recruits.
Katherine Bradley assembled a really talented team at CityBridge. Executive Director Mieka Wick came from New Profit and chairs the board for the DC Scholars Public Charter School.  Margaret Angell directs the Fellowship program. She worked for DCPS, Boston Public Schools, and served as a White House Fellow.
“The most important change was in the Fellows’ orientation–we challenged them to figure out how they are going to do something different that will really benefit students, really change the student experience,” said Angell.  “While most PD is about conveying information, we did something distinctly different.  We said there is awesome stuff going on out there that you can learn from but only you know your kids.  So the design is up to you.”
The Fellows came back from their April trip to California with an overwhelming energy.  The school visits, especially to KIPP Empower and Alliance BLAST, motivated them to rearrange their furniture the next Monday morning.  The Fellows embraced the DNA of the Fellowship that it is not a training on what to do, but rather a mindset of innovation and improvement.  With that in mind, many of the Fellows are now committed to sharing their ideas and have become contributors to BlendMyLeaning.
With $1 million in support from Microsoft the 2014 fellowship will be expanded to up to 20 participants.
Turnaround. Mieka has worked closely with Pam Cantor and the team at Turnaround for Children which has supported improvement efforts at five high challenge schools including Wheatley, a k-8 school.  It’s likely that Turnaround will join at least one Breakthrough applicant in proposing a blended and fortified environments  that supports the needs of individual students.


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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