Now Is the Time: Leveraging Technology to Close Achievement Gaps

West Gen Schools

By: Wendy Loloff Piersee, Jonathan Spear and Jon Reinhard
Adopt a Mindset of Constant Improvement
Turnaround efforts are hard work. It takes a mindset of constant improvement to get academic traction and find the right mix and placement of blended learning supports for students and teachers.
When Generation Schools Network™ partnered with Denver Public Schools to open West Generation Academy as a turnaround replacement option on the West Campus in Fall 2012, we planned to incorporate a blended rotational model in our core Humanities and STEM classes – to reduce class size and differentiate instruction.
The Generation Schools Model offers an extended day and year with the day blocked into 75 minute learning blocks and technology enabled classrooms. Morning Foundation Courses in STEM and Humanities feature a direct instruction area, a half class set of computers and an area for collaboration. In the first year, the school offered additional intervention and support in the afternoon Studio Course block for SPED (17%), ELL (60%) and students that needed to catch up. 80% came in five or more years behind. Our academic results in year 1 were promising, but listening to our teachers and making adjustments to the schedule and the skillware that summer made all the difference for gaining academic traction in year 2.
Incorporate Teacher Voice
In the second year, we took the advice our teachers offered over the summer. We worked alongside Principal Dominic Martinez to alter the original schedule to include two 90 minute Foundation Course blocks in the morning and adjust the placement of skillware.
Beginning Fall 2013, we increased Foundation Courses from 75 minute to 90 minute blocks enabling students to spend 30 minutes at each station or have a longer block for project-based learning. Additionally, Accelerated Reader was moved into the Humanities block. Here, it could be supported by certified English Teachers which lead to an incredible turnaround in reading and literacy that received a governor’s commendation. Reading Plus was moved from Humanities to an intervention Studio Block in the afternoon of 75 minutes.
We learned: 1) to maintain the commitment to blended learning but listen to the teachers to make critical changes, 2) to get the right skillware in the right place not only in terms of time allowed but also with teacher support, 3) to set aside time weekly to support teacher in the use of blended learning.
Wherever, your school is in adopting technology and introducing blended learning, take the time this summer to evaluate student data with your teachers. Ask questions and make adjustments. Taking this approach, WGA has been able to nearly eliminate the achievement gap for students at West Generation Academy in two years.
For more about Generation Schools Network, thought partnership and blended learning visit
Wendy Loloff Piersee – CEO. Ms. Piersee has extensive experience in the non-profit and education sectors, especially in the area of network development and school replication. She has worked in higher education and served as Development Director and Associate Director of the Denver Street School and as the co-founder of the StreetSchool Network. Ms. Piersee has been with GSN since 2010 and is currently completing her Master of Education degree at Concordia University.
Jonathan Spear – Co–Founder and Chief Learning Office. Mr. Spear co-founded the first Generation School in 2007 with Furman Brown. Hw has deep experience developing and managing effective school partnerships with community-based organizations and cultural institutions. He brings skills sets in school operations and governance in both district and charter school settings. Mr. Spear earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in Education from Bank Street College of Education.
Jon Reinhard – VP of Learning & Teaching. Mr. Reinhard has built his career in school turnaround, leadership development, and developing strategic community and business partnerships to support innovation in public schools, especially in STEM instruction, in New York, Ohio, and California. Mr. Reinhard has a MS in Education from The University of Cincinnati and more than 20 years’ experience in both the non-profit, public education and corporate business arenas.

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