School visits are a great way to learn and are key to developing an innovation mindset. Based on a couple thousand school visits and with help from colleagues and readers, we’ve compiled a list of 66 U.S. secondary schools worth visits. The list includes schools that achieve extraordinary results for underserved communities, create powerful learning experiences, and/or are innovative blended and competency-based models.
Middle & High Schools
1. Playlists & Projects. Summit Denali, north of San Jose, is middle school that will grow into a 6-12 model. There are 12 components of this celebrated NGLC winning school model and platform. Summit Public Schools is the best example of a network iterating on a secondary school model and platform. With a little help from Facebook engineers, Summit invited a network of schools to use their Personalized Learning Platform which serves up individualized skill building playlists and challenging projects (featured here). Summit opened the two most innovative schools in Washington state this fall (but the state court ruled charters unconstitutional).
2. Platform play. Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School serves 6-7 students in the heart of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle (growing to 6-12). The LAB model personalizes learning with technology and tutors. It requires a staffing structure that allows small group instruction—no more than three students at a time. The LAB team includes six lead teachers and 24 Lab Tutor Corps Fellows, who are full time tutors, all with bachelor’s degrees, who work with students in small groups or 1:1 (featured here).
3. STEM PBL. iTech Prep in Vancouver Washington is a 6-12 tech-rich STEM school featuring project-based learning. The middle school meet at a community center, the high school is on the WSU campus (watch video).
4. Environmental. Highland Tech Charter School is a 6-12 learning environment that promotes mastery learning through integrated project-based learning. Guiding ideas include Shared Leadership, Shared Vision, and Personal Mastery through standards-based instruction with systemic and systematic Continuous Improvement (featured on CompetencyWorks).
6. Museum. Grand Rapids Public Museum School is a partnership between a museum, three colleges, the city, and the school district. The new school will grow into a 6-12 configuration. Like Houston A+ Up and Tacoma School of the Arts, it’s a great example of city as campus.
7. Portfolios. Making Community Connections Charter School in Manchester New Hampshire is an innovative 7-12 school with a shared understanding of motivation, engagement, and student agency. Experiences include personal learning, field experiences, internships, and challenge activities. Students prepare portfolios and a presentation in order to pass through gateways onto the next phase (featured on CompetencyWorks).
8. Statewide. Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, New Hampshire’s competency-based online 6-12 school with 20,000 course enrollments and performance-based funding (featured by CompetencyWorks and NGLC).
9. First generation. Eastside College Prep is a secondary school serving first generation college aspirants in East Palo Alto. They were an early adopter of Khan Academy and blended math. Students progress on mastery but classrooms encourage collaborative learning (featured here).
10. Show & Tell. High Tech High in San Diego is the best example of a high-engagement cohort model secondary school. Great teachers frame great projects and expect students to show what they know on a regular basis. When you’re there, visit High Tech International across the street.
11. Mindset. While in San Diego, visit Kearny High School of Digital Media & Design. The student-centered project-based school stresses productive “Habits of Mind.”
12. 50/50 Blend. Carpe Diem in Yuma Arizona (and Indianapolis & Cincinnati) is the best example of a 50/50 blend with an effective combination of personalized online learning in a lab setting and workshops taught by master teachers. When you visit you’ll understand the power of the Carpe Diem culture (see Yuma trip report or Cincinnati trip report.
13. Flex. Flex model schools, like Silicon Valley Flex, use a digital curriculum to support individual progress. (See feature and 12 reasons every district should open a flex school.)
14. Flex network. Nexus Lansing is part of a 7 school midwest network of flex academies supported by Connections Learning. Students work at their own pace with access to teachers, a success coach, college counselor, and personal trainer.
15. Health. Cornerstone Health+Tech HIgh School, Detroit, combines individual goal setting, project-based coursework, online learning, internships and teacher support.
16. Flipped school. Clintondale High School, also near Detroit, flipped much of their instruction using content on Gooru. Superintendent Greg Green said, “We found that this redesign of the classroom yielded significant results.” Check out his TEDx talk.
17. Project-Based. The 180 schools in New Tech Network share Echo, a project-based learning management system. Anson New Tech, east of Charlotte North Carolina, integrates related subjects such as world geography and earth science or American literature and history.
18. Capstone. METSA New Tech, said, “Our mission ensures that students are strategically prepared for the rigor and self-discipline of college and the innovative demands of STEM career pathways,” despite the fact that more than 70% of the Carrollton, Texas students live in or near poverty. A capstone service projects culminates the METSA experience. (See feature on Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day).
19. Just the Ticket. The staff at Leadership Public Schools in Oakland built Exit Ticket, a classroom assessment and competency tracking system. LPS is the best example of a collaborative and distributed innovation agenda across a network of schools. They have a productive partnership with Gooru, where superintendent Louis Waters is Superintendent in Residence (see profiled).
20. Interest-Based Learning. The 100-school Edvisions high schools use Project Foundry and a variety of tools to support student-centered and project-based learning. Start with a visit to teacher run Minnesota New Country School (profiled here).
21. Internships. The 100-school Big Picture network does the best job of identifying student interest and creating related internships. We featured Met East in Camden in a PBL post. Providence BP schools are using project-based College for America curriculum for dual credit.
22. Travel. THINK Global School students use the latest equipment to “record, report, and share their global education online as they travel the world.”
23. Challenge. NYC iSchool blends computer adaptive learning with challenges that require students to work together to present real solutions to real problems.
24. Expeditions. Casco Bay High School in Portland Maine is an Expeditionary Learning school which keeps the school’s goals “clear, ambitious and essential.” Casco juniors engage in a long term interdisciplinary project that results in demonstration of learning (featured on CompetencyWorks and Sprinpoint).
26. Character. DSST may be the best high poverty STEM school in the country but it’s also really good at character development. “We’re a values first organization,” said CEO Bill Kurtz.
27. Journalism. The nation’s biggest and best journalism program is Palo Alto High School. Esther Wojcicki asks her students to write at least 250 words every day. Students produce professional quality publications.
29. 1:1. The Chicagoland Leyden High School District was 1:1 leader launching Chromebooks in 2012. Check out tech director Bryan Weinert’s blog for details. In February 2014, the College Board recognized Leyden High School District 212 as the AP School of the Year.
31. Entrepreneurship. Also in Philly is Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, a cool private school with a partnership with Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership
32. Liberal Arts. Veritas Preparatory Academy, part of the Great Hearts network, is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education and developing young people of character. The high school day starts with Humane Letters, a two-hour Socratic seminar where students read great books and the founding documents (featured here).
33. Alternative. Eagle Rock (@EagleRockSchool) in Estes Park Colorado, is a initiative of American Honda, is both a high school and a professional development center for educators (and a very cool place to visit).
34. Competency-based. Building 21 Ferguson is a non-selective competency-based public high school in Philadelphia supported by a nonprofit launched by three Harvard grad students. Students are supported to design their own pathway to graduation—a pathway defined by B21’s competency-based framework with a series of dashboards for students and teachers to use to inform their experiences (featured on CompetencyWorks).
35. Tutoring. Match High School, Boston, utilizes individualized tutoring for every student in support of a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum. Match Education also runs Match Beyond, a college access program for young adults in partnership with project-based College for America (featured here).
36. Art+. While in Boston, visit Boston Arts Academy which creates great art learning and exhibition opportunities with the Professional Arts Consortium and cohabitates with another great small school (for another 6 months), Fenway High.
37. Alt Mashup. Boston Day and Evening Academy proficiency-based pathways that allow students to progress based on demonstrated mastery rather than seat time. Students benefit from wraparound services, digital tools that help create a personalized approach, and a school open 12 hours a day–self-paced alt ed meets adventure-based leadership training meets blended learning. (Featured by Chris Sturgis.)
39. Early College. Simons Rock is “a small, selective, supportive, intensive college of the liberal arts and sciences in the middle of the Berkshires.” Students enroll after 10th or 11th grade. Simons Rock was the basis for the 7 school Bard Early College network where students can leave high school with an associates degree.
40. Service. Quest Early College in Spring (north of Houston) has a great student-led service learning program. Co-located with Lone Star College, an amazing 80% of graduates (many first generation college goers) leave with an AA degree (featured here).
41. Early College for All. Santa Ana Middle College High School has great performance levels with the majority of seniors earning an AA before they walked at graduation and half were accepted into UCI upon graduation. Similarly, Corona-Norco’s JFKennedy Middle College High School is a good program, but neither is very far along on blended learning.
42. Alt Early College. Beaverton Early College High School is part of the a network sponsored by Portland Community College where at risk students can earn a high school diploma and an associate degree. (See Early College High Schools)
43. Catch Up. Schools for the Future Detroit is a new competency alternative high school already generating results with a strong culture of learning, strong transparency, and a blended approach to literacy. The SFF network serves overage and undercredited students that uses a mastery approach to help them recuperate lost credits while accelerating their path toward college-ready standards and high school graduation (featured by NGLC).
44. IB. The 30 schools of the IDEA Public Schools prepare all of their south Texas students for college with AP and the rigorous International Baccalaureate program. Visit the flagship high school in Donna and the K-8 feeder school featuring a lab rotation blend (featured here).
45. Global. West of Milwaukee is the lovely area of Kettle Moraine with a big high school that houses some very interesting charter schools including KM Perform, performing arts blend, and KM Global, a flex model global studies school.
46. Deeper Learning. Springfield Renaissance School in central Massachusetts district is “centered upon issues, problems, and challenges that either face our society now or have lessons applicable to modern times.” (See feature on Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day).
47. Early College STEM. Metro Early College High School was launched in 2006 in partnership with the Ohio State University and Battelle. Students tackle big ideas, do real work, and take classes at OSU. Metro anchors the Ohio STEM Learning Network (featured here).
48. Tech Jobs. IBM launched the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn in 2011 in partnership with CUNY and City Tech. The 9-14 model has been replicated to 40 schools with 70 industry partners and will grow to 60 schools by 2016. Staffing, scheduling, and the strategic use of data are key to success.
49. Work Study. Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago anchors the 30 school network of Catholic schools. Students takes a full college prep course load and work one day each week in a Corporate Work Study Program to fund the majority of their tuition. Initiated out of financial desperation, the work study builds valuable success skills and work experience.
50. Robotics. Achievement First University Prep in Brooklyn and was highlighted in the news for its robotics program. All tenth graders took the AP test and 50% passed with a score of 3 or higher. Acceptance to a four-year college or university is a graduation requirement.
51. Advanced Manufacturing. RAMTEC in Marion, Ohio (an hour northwest of Columbus) at Tri-Rivers Career Center runs career and technical high school programs in advanced manufacturing, engineering technologies, and welding. Through corporate partnerships, RAMTEC is able to offer high school students, community college students, and adult workers some of the most current job training in the country (see feature).
52. Manufacturing Internships. GPS Education Partners manages 15 eastern Wisconsin education centers in partnership with 35 districts and more than 200 business partners. High school juniors and seniors take blended classes in the morning and participate in manufacturing internships in the afternoon. They graduate with job certificates and often college credit (see feature).
53. Finance. Southwest Miami High Academy of Finance, a member of the NAF network, has a 17-year track record of business partnerships to support student work experiences. The school, which serves a Hispanic neighborhood, has a 100% graduation and postsecondary enrollment rate. Miami Dade offers 49 NAF programs in the five career themes of Engineering, Finance, Health Science, Hospitality & Tourism, and Information Technology at 26 high schools.
54. Hospitality. Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Academy of Hospitality & Tourism in North Miami is also an NAF academy. Every student completes a 150-hour internship between their Junior and Senior years. The school has a productive relationship with the adjacent Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism at Florida International University.
56. Design. Design Tech High School (d.tech) is a new charter high school in San Mateo merging blended learning and design thinking with a focus on the success skills to help students forge an identity that will help them as students, professionals, and citizens.. A new facility on the Oracle campus is being built.
57. Library. e3 Civic High is located in San Diego’s spectacular new downtown library. Students learn through a mixture of self-paced online instruction, teacher or student-led small-group instruction, direct instruction, and problem-based and project-based work. They benefit from strong supports and extended learning opportunities (featured here).
58. ELL. Bronx International High School, opened in 2004 as part of the NYC small schools initiative, was the fourth school in the Internationals Network which serves immigrant youth new to English. The network of 18 schools integrates language development and academic content while building student and family capacity for integration into American society (featured on CompetencyWorks).
59. Young Men of Color. EPIC North is new school in NYC designed to make sure that young men of color will thrive. As the EPIC Playbook describes, it combines competency education with youth development, cultural relevance, and high engagement learning (featured on CompetencyWorks).
60. Essential. Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, west of Boston, has been in the vanguard of progressive, student-centered public education for over twenty years and draws most heavily on the work of Ted and Nancy Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools (featured by Springpoint). It’s a good place to learn about advisory, assessment, habits of learning.
61. Full court press. Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy Charter Schools provides data-driven instruction, Student Advocates who work with children one-on-one and collaborate with parents and teachers, and full wrap around services.
62. Top shelf. Avenues: The World School is the NYC anchor to what will become an international network of K-12 schools. Teachers at the elite private school use a combination of flipped classroom and station rotation strategies. The the dual language (Mandarin or Spanish) school make extensive use of open content. eduClipper is crafting a next-generation platform for qualitative social assessments.
63. EduMakerCincy. Cincinnati Country Day School was an early 1:1 leader. The private elementary has a Montessori option. The middle school has an interdisciplinary focus. CCDS hosted a maker event this year.
64. Whole child. Crossroads School, a private school in Santa Monica founded 40 years ago by Dr. Paul Cummins with a focuses on whole-child education, Crossroads was a pioneer for social-emotional learning. Twenty years ago Cummins opened New Roads School, a similar but more diverse school with a strong commitment to financial aid.
65. Blended rehab. American International School of Utah is a great example of rehabilitated retail space. Early grades use a Montessori approach. Intermediate grades are student-centered similar to another school worth visiting — Acton Academy. The high school has big blended blocks that use a mixture of learning spaces that allow for student choice and encourage ownership. The music and drama program are exceptional (featured here).
66. Eastbay maker. Lighthouse Community Charter School, a diverse k-12 community, is fast becoming Oakland’s leader in Maker Education, through the great work of their Creativity Lab. Their second school, Lodestar, is an NGLC planning grantee. Rogers Family Foundation has partnered with the Creativity Lab and Mirus Labs to host about 15 Oakland Maker Fellows, many of whom are teachers in NGLC planning grant schools.
Green School in Bali combines a rigorous K-12 core curriculum with hands-on experiential learning within a Green Studies curriculum and a Creative Arts curriculum. Check out the spectacular bamboo architecture. It’s a boarding school, so you could send the kids and visit a couple times a year.
Thanks to our contributors including colleagues at CompetencyWorks, NGLC, and Silicon Schools. Sorry for all the great schools we missed. What school would you add to the list?
Stay tuned for great schools districts worth visiting.
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