Education for Change: Epic Turn Around in Oakland

Epic is an innovative blended middle school with a game-based UI. Students embark on their own “Hero’s Journey” (in the Joseph Campbell tradition) using points, badges, and levels to mark progress.

In the tough Fruitvale neighborhood of south Oakland, Epic features personalized STEAM learning in a modern space.


Quests are interactive curriculum challenges where students apply their learning and demonstrate mastery in creative ways. Quests foster deep understanding of content, ideas, and self.

Epic curriculum features design thinking workshops where students propose innovative solutions to complex problems. There is a clean makerspace and a place to make a mess.

The blended format features Teach to One adaptive math program. Like every Bay blend we visited, Epic learning is powered by 1:1 Chromebooks.  


Some visitors find the game frame confusing or pointless but the teens navigate the space and curriculum with ease.


While Randy Ward was serving as state administrator in Oakland USD (while in fiscal receivership) a nonprofit charter management organization, Education for Change (EFC) was formed to convert program improvement schools to charters.

Early work was guided by the prevailing meme of aligned instruction. Scores jumped at the three managed schools but conversion of district schools remained contentious. District administrator Hae-Sin Thomas took over as EFC CEO in 2011 and three more schools were converted in 2012.   

EFC is developing K-12 portfolios in the Elmhurst and Fruitvale neighborhoods of Oakland. They convert an elementary, build deep roots in the community, and then launch innovative new secondary schools.  

Each school has the autonomy to develop an innovative instructional program to best serve the most at risk and underserved youth.

A proposed EFC high school will leverage community assets; students will spend the majority of their time on work and partner sites.  

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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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