HQPBL Case Study: Katherine Smith School


For many, it will not come as a surprise that Katherine Smith School in San Jose has been chosen to be one of the first High Quality PBL case study sites. Anyone who has visited or learned about the “K.Smith” school community knows of the engagement, enthusiasm and deeper learning that happens here. It is becoming increasingly well known that these educators, families and students are thriving together through meaningful project-based learning.

What may not be as well known is the story about K. Smith got to be what it is today and the impetus for focusing so much on PBL…

Seven years ago, Aaron Brengard came to serve as principal of Katherine Smith Elementary, a 55-year-old Title I school within San Jose’s Evergreen School District. Despite its location in Silicon Valley, the school seemed a world apart from the region recognized globally for entrepreneurship and innovation.

From the very beginning of his tenure, Brengard championed a school redesign that would better prepare students for the real world. (He has since moved on to become principal of the district’s middle school, with close ties remaining to its elementary school operations. Kevin Armstrong and Rachel Trowbridge, also both founding teachers, now lead Katherine Smith.) The lessons learned from this journey toward High Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) remain relevant, however, as they could potentially be applied to public schools across America.


This case study was produced by Getting Smart as part of the High Quality Project Based Learning campaign (visit hqpbl.org for more). The goal of the campaign is to identify what high quality PBL student experiences look like and work to ensure all students have access to this type of learning. The campaign is supported by Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF) and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and sponsored by the Buck Institute for Education.

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Emily Liebtag

Emily Liebtag, Ed.D., is Education Reimagined's Senior Partner for Systems Transformation. Formerly, Emily served as the Vice President of Advocacy at Getting Smart.

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