38 Elementary & Middle Schools Worth Visiting

Recently we chronicled 35 High Schools Worth Visiting. That led to a request for a similar compilation of inspiring elementary and middle schools. Far from exhaustive, our list includes schools that achieve extraordinary results, create powerful learning experiences, and/or have created innovative technology blends.

K-8 Schools

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 10.58.09 PM1. Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority (EAA) operates six formerly low performing Detroit K-8 schools, including Nolan K-8 (pictured), that share an innovative platform and school model. See Building Buzz in Detroit for more on this must visit turnaround revolution.

2. Burns Elementary/Middle School, also part of the EAA (and formerly the lowest performing school in Michigan), is operated by Matchbook Learning (profiled here and featured here) also using the Buzz platform with Compass Learning, ST Math, and ALEKS.

3. Arthur Ashe Charter School in New Orleans (profiled here), is operated by FirstLine Schools. The lab rotation model incorporates Achieve 3000, Accelerated Reader, Think Through Math and ST Math.

4. Aspire ERES Academy in Oakland (profiled here) uses ST Math, i-Ready, Achieve 3000, Accelerated Reader, and Think Through Math in a station rotation model. With 37 California schools, Aspire is one of the nation’s highest performing low-income school systems.

5. Aspire opened two schools in Memphis this year that will become K-8. Nicknamed CODE Aspire (profiled here and here), the schools offer a “rich STEM-focused education, individualized technology rich learning opportunities, and explicit instruction in computer coding skills.” The rotation model features i-Ready and DreamBox Learning.

6. Avenues: The World School is the NYC anchor to Chris Whittle’s international network. Teachers at the elite private school use a combination of flipped classroom and station rotation strategies. They make extensive use of open content. eduClipper is crafting a next-generation platform for qualitative social assessments.

7. Da Vinci Innovation Academy is a project-based NGLC winning school in Hawthorne, California (profiled here). Students usually spend two days per week on campus and have another optional day on campus for electives.

8. Burley School is a Chicago literature, writing and technology magnet school. Visitors see students discussing, reading, thinking, exploring, questioning, experimenting, creating, and collaborating. Students have access to iPads and laptops and a full art and music program.

Middle Schools

9. Summit Denali is a new Silicon Valley middle school that will grow into a 6-12 model. There are 12 Components of this celebrated NGLC winning school model and platform. Like the EAA, Denali is great example of a network that has an innovative platform and school model and continue to iterate on both. The open Activate Instruction platform dishes individualized skill building playlists to prepare students to standards-aligned project-based work.

10. Bate Middle School, Danville Kentucky, (profiled here) is a great turnaround story. The staff developed innovation plan focused on challenge-based learning and positive habits of mind. Check out this great trip report from superintendent Carmen Coleman.

11. Incubator School is a NGLC winning LAUSD flex middle school (profiled here) using Think Through Math, Mangahigh, TenMarks, Newsela, NoRedInk, StudySync, and Read180. The day includes roughly a third online, a third in projects, and a third in advisory.

12. Messalonskee Middle School in Maine, students have Learning Goal Time (LGT) every day, with a full two hours once a week to work on assignments and get the extra help they need. Chris Sturgis has featured the school on CompetencyWorks and in this brief.

13. Blanca Alvarado Middle School, Alpha Public Schools, (profiled here) opened last year in San Jose. Alpha uses Compass Learning, Achieve 3000, and ST Math content on the Education Elements platform with MAPS and MasteryConnect assessments. Students spend about 50% of their time in the station rotation model online.

14. James Madison Middle School in Oakland (profiled here) is one of the blended learning pilot projects supported by the Rogers Family Foundation and Education Elements. Madison teachers use a two-group in-class rotation model. Math content includes DreamBox, Mangahigh, and Khan Academy.

15. Quest to Learn is a NYC game-based charter middle school (profiled here). Game-based content includes Gamestar Mechanic, Atmosphir, and Mangahigh.

16. Ranson IB middle school (@RansonIBMS) is part of Charlotte Mecklenburg‘s Project LIFT to create an Opportunity Culture and extend the reach of the best teachers. A great blog from Romain Bertrand (@htdcompletely) outlines five lessons from their efforts to personalize math instruction and notes that “Compass Learning Odyssey or Dreambox Learning help you better know what each of your students really need.”

Elementary + Middle Pairs

17. High Tech High in San Diego (profiled here) is probably the best example of a high-engagement cohort model secondary school. Teachers at feeder schools Explorer Elementary and High Tech Middle frame great projects and expect students to show what they know on a regular basis. There are also great HTH middle schools in North San Diego County and Chula Vista (featured here).

18. Reynoldsburg Schools (East of Columbus Ohio) include a K-12 STEM network that includes Baldwin Road Junior High and Herbert Mills Elementary and Summit Road Elementary.

19. Hannah Ashton Middle School in Reynoldsburg (profiled here) is a blended model powerd by Education Elements and Edmodo. Content partners include Compass Learning, Achieve 3000, and Virtual Nerd.

20. Mooresville Graded School District, north of Charlotte North Carolina, is a well known 1:1 district with an interesting configuration: three K-3 schools, two 4-6 schools, and a 7-8 middle. In Mooresville, It’s Not About the Machine, It’s About Heart. See Mark Edward’s book, Every Child, Every Day.

21. The 130 school New Tech Network (NTN) includes a growing number of project-based STEM-focused middle and elementary schools. The Evergreen School District in San Jose, California is home to Bulldog Tech, a NTN demonstration site, and Katherine Smith Elementary.

22. The 30 K-12 schools of the IDEA Public Schools prepare south Texas students for college with the rigorous International Baccalaureate program. IDEA McAllen (profiled here) is a K-6 school featuring DreamBox, ST Math, Reasoning Mind, and ThinkThroughMath. Direct Instruction in reading is augmented by a blended Sylvan lab.

23. Humes Preparatory Academy-Elementary & MIddle Schools in Memphis are operated by Gestalt Community Schools (profiled here). Students spend seven and a half hours of their nine hour day in a blended rotation environment using Mac laptops and ST Math, Achieve 3000, Compass Learning, Wowzers, and Study Island.

Elementary Schools

24. Rocketship Education (profiled here) has eight Bay Area high-poverty high-performing blended elementary schools. Primary grades rotate through a lab for a quarter of their eight hour day. Intermediate grades use a class rotation model. Content includes DreamBox, ST Mathi-Ready, and Rosetta Stone.

25. KIPP Empower in LA (profiled here) was the first blended school in the KIPP network. The station rotation model runs on a Education Elements and Agilix platform and features DreamBox, iStation, and Compass Learning.

26. Ingenuity Prep, in Washington, D.C, is a NGLC winner that will serve K-1 students next year. They plan to grow into a  K-12 school in DC with a four-tiered staffing approach (from resident to master teacher) and small-group blended learning instruction.

27. Acton Academy is a cool private elementary school in Austin (profiled here) and one of the best examples of self-directed learning.

28. Success Academy is redefining success in K-8 education with 22 elementary, middle, and K-8 schools in NYC. Visit to learn about sophisticated teacher development, inspiring science instruction, and a powerful culture. CEO Eva Moskowitz explains, “We have a culture of daily mastery–we believe children should intellectually struggle with challenging content and the teachers should insist on mastery.”

29. Achievement First operates 25 schools in Brooklyn, Providence, and Connecticut. The flagship Amistad Academy, “opened in New Haven in 1999 to prove that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their affluent suburban counterparts.” When I mention charter management organizations as the big breakthrough of the last decade, AF is at the top of that list.

30. Bracken STEAM Academy is an award winning magnet K-5 school in north Las Vegas (profiled here). Grade level teams coordinate a long list of digital resources.

31. Gilroy Prep is the highest performing new elementary school in California and the anchor of Navigator Schools. The ST Math program is discussed here and the lab rotation model is profiled here.

32. KM Explore is one of three very interesting district sponsored charter schools west of Milwaukee. The open plan multiage blend features high engagement projects. They also figured out what to do with those old textbooks.

33. Cleveland Elementary School (featured here) was the lowest performing elementary school in Santa Barbara district until they launched a blended math program powered by DreamBox Learning. The adaptive math program is used in a station rotation model.

34. Cornerstone Madison-Carver Academy is a k-6 school in the same facility as Cornerstone Health High School in Detroit (and featured last week and last year). Cornerstone features a lab rotation in primary grades and a class rotation in intermediate grades–and a strong culture and well developed character development program K-12.

35. All students at Wade King Elementary School, Bellingham Washington, are learning Chinese. Students are able to work at their own pace, and benefit from individualized instruction, access from home, and coaching from a native speaker. King Elementary was featured in recent paper, The Next Generation of World Language Learning.

36. Colvin Run Elementary School, Fairfax County Virginia (also featured in the world language paper) expanded their existing Spanish curriculum in blended classrooms. After 13 weeks, 90% for the students improved oral proficiency by at least one level. They also used Rosetta Stone to create an independent study program for languages like Chinese.

 37. Hartland School of Community Learning (profiled here) was a twitter suggestion and we’ve added it to our must visit list. Students in this grade 3-5 multiage charter school use trimester targets to set weekly and monthly academic goals for themselves to guide their learning. Each day students stop, drop, reflect for the last 40 minutes of the day.

38. St. Louis Language Immersion Schools (@SLLIS) include a French, Spanish and Chinese immersion elementary schools, and plan to open an IB secondary school next year. We agree: every student should be globally competent, world language fluent.

What schools inspire you? After publishing on EdWeek, we received a few more submissions:

  • @MentorSuper invited us to visit #catalyst in Mentor Schools for what is becoming a regional blended learning development site with @EdElements
  • @gsinders reminded me of Cincinnati Day School
  • @JasonMMarkey reminded me of National Teachers Academy in Chicago
  • Neil Shorthouse reminded me of North Star Academy in Newark
  • Steve McCrea suggested River Cities Community Charter School in Miami.  It features cooperative teaching & learning, integration of the arts, advisories, personal learning plans, portfolios & portfolio interviews, multiple domain assessments, end-of year exhibitions, eight grade internships, and capstone projects

DreamBox, Compass Learning, Curriculum Associates, MIND Research Institute, Connections Education, and Rosetta Stone, are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. Edmodo, eduClipper, Mangahigh, NoRedInk, and MasteryConnect, are a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner.

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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