Road Trip Summer 2016: Checking in on Innovative Schools and School Innovators across the USA

10/22/2016 – This blog post is in development

[See larger versions of each small picture in the Slide Show above.]

Starting out from Tucson on Wednesday, June 8, my destination was Boston and Cape Cod, where I would spend 5 mid-Summer weeks. I mapped out a southern route heading East on the I10 with map_eaststops in Austin, New Orleans, Atlanta, Greenville (SC), Charlottesville (VA), and Brooklyn, and a side trip to Anchorage (AK) before heading on to Boston. The return trip in August was to take a northern route west and southwest back to Tucson. There would be at least two weeks on the road each way, checking in on innovative schools and school innovators across the USA. Ultimately I would drive 6000+ miles over 11 weeks.

Austin Hill Country

First stop after two days of driving was to the Austin Hill Country to visit old friend and colleague Mark Standley, resettled there after 35 years as an education leader in Alaska. I knew Mark first in the 90s when he was Apple Computer’s lead in Alaska and mark_and_boblater as he led the founding of the innovative Highland Tech High School in Anchorage circa 2004. Our team at the Napa-based New Technology Foundation (NTF, now the New Tech Network), a school development organization working with communities to replicate the New Technology High School model, awarded Highland Tech one of our 10 original Gates Foundation pass-through replication grants. Highland Tech also worked with the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), and became its flagship school nationally for its personalized, competency-based education system.

Mark now heads a significant National Science Foundation project on drones in education. Mark has authored four books on Digital Storytelling and Project-Based Learning. See Mark’s drone project video viewing El Capitan cave in Blanco, TX, which shows how drones can be used by students in real-world projects.

In nearby Wimberly, Mark and I were interviewed by Duanne Redus for a Podcast on Developing and Implementing 21st Century Project-Based Learning Schools. Duanne is the chairperson of the new Wimberley Valley Radio, KWVH 94.1, and the owner of Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees and Smoothies.


June 10 in Austin started with breakfast with Trent Sharp and Patti Everitt, who along with Kent Ewing were the leaders of the High School Redesign Initiative at the Austin Independenttrent_and_patti School District (link to Internet Archive) 2005-2009 under former Superintendent Dr. Pascal Forgione. This was one of the most extensive high school redesign initiatives in the country. Also see Stanford University’s report on the Austin HSRI. NTF and Asia Society partnered with AISD to transform Eastside Memorial High School. This launched in 2009 as potentially one of the best high school transformations in the country but unfortunately was undermined over the next two years by incoming superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen. Trent is currently doing doctoral work at UT and Patti is consulting for AIR and others.

After breakfast I headed to the construction site of the new Cedars International Next Generation High School, opening late August 2016. It is located on the Fiskville Road on the Austin Community College Highland campus. Les Simpson was there to greet me and Mark Standley and show us around. Les is the former EdTech and cedars_lesDigital Media Guru at Manor New Technology High School. Cedars Founding Principal Steve Zipkes and a group of lead teachers, all formerly from the nationally-acclaimed Manor New Technology High School (President Obama visited the school in 2013), were off in Beijing training Chinese educators through the school’s outreach PD organization, ARIE Global PBL Academies. This school starts up with the most significant cadre of master PBL teachers that I have even known. The school, designed by Steve Zipkes, Les Simpson, Stehanie Ehler and their team as a 21st century STEAM school, will serve as a lab and demonstration school for ARIE Global PBL Academies.  Cedars International NGHS is also affiliated with the New Tech Network.

Lunch was a great sandwich at Austin’s Buenos Aires Café with longtime colleague and friend John Fitzpatrick. John was Austin’s School-to-Work/School-to-Career coordinator in the late john_fitz1990s at the Capital Area Training Foundation. He then headed the Texas High School Initiative (THSI) in the 2000s, partnering with the Texas Education Agency to produce the largest development of new STEM high schools (T-STEM) in the country. THSI transformed itself into Educate Texas circa 2013, and John continues this work as Executive Director. Educate Texas is an innovative public-private partnership focused on a common goal: Improving the public education system so that every Texas student is prepared for success in school, in the workforce, and in life.

And its back on the road again, heading East! Austin to Houston, catching the I10 again, staying over in Beaumont, the eastern end of Texas. Next day it is a straight shot to New Orleans.

 New Orleans

In New Orleans I connected with another colleague and friend from the School-to-Work/School-to-Career days, Sue Burge. Sue is the former leader of the MetroVision School-to-Career Initiative, which served school sue-burgedistricts throughout the greater New Orleans Metro Area. Sue’s organization was our New Technology Foundation partner for working with communities throughout Louisiana. Days before Katrina hit in August 23, 2005, Susan Schilling and I were in New Orleans where Sue convened meetings of school district leaders and business leaders interested in bringing New Tech schools to Louisiana. In the years after Katrina hit, Sue (aka Miss Sue) became our NTF liaison for Louisiana and chauffeured me, Sharon Oldham, and Ted Fujimoto all over the state. Louisiana currently has 3 New Tech schools.


Next stop is Atlanta for the annual FUSE 2016 conference: Design Thinking Experience, June 15-17, at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS). The K-12 independent fuse2016school is the leading school in the US applying Design Thinking to K-12 education. The school has collaborated since 2012 with the Stanford d. School to bring Design Thinking practices to K-12 education. The conference is led by the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (MVIFI), an accelerator and amplifier of the school’s work. MVIFI Executive Director Bo Adams (@boadams1) and an extraordinary nucleus team of learning designers host the conference. MVIFI also consults with schools and organizations working for their own transformation and innovation. See my page on Design Thinking in Schools K12.

An added treat for me was linking up with the team from Arnold Lodge Schoarnold_lodgeol, a small independent school in Leamington Spa in the English Midlands – Dai Preston, Penny Partridge, Christine Smith, and Barbi Goulding-Parr. I had worked with Arnold Lodge School in March and their participation at FUSE was one of the outcomes of my visit.

Greenville, SC

I’d traveled East to Alabama and then cut north to Atlanta.  Now it is all driving north to my East Coast destinations. It’s very exciting to be heading back to Greenville. I worked there in 2012 as one of the education consultants for Fielding Nair International, architects and change agents for education. FNI co-designed with McMillan Pazdan Smith the Greenville greenvilleCounty (SC) Schools’ Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School, a PBL STEAM middle school which was named the CEFPI 2015 James D. MacConnell Award Winner as the outstanding new school building of the year (see submittal). The school opened in 2014 and features six learning communities of about 125 students, with eight different instructional spaces for each learning community. See the terrific Fisher MS video here.

An added delight to seeing the school for the first time was being hosted there by by Assistant Principal Matt Crittell and by Ansel Sanders who was the original program director for the school in 2012. Ansel then spent 3 years getting his doctorate in the Harvard Education Leadership Program and has returned to Greenville as Associate Director of the  Public Education Partners in Greenville County. The Greenville-Spartanburg region is one of the most dynamic economic regions of the country.

Charlottesville, VA

The drive north from Greenville to Charlottesville in Central Virginia is flanked on the West by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlottesville, home of the Universialbemarle1ty of Virginia and also the Albemarle County Public Schools, one of the most innovative school districts in the United States. The night before I arrived massive thunderstorms swept the region and knocked out power in many places. Despite this Superintendent Pam Moran drove in from her rural home and agnor-hurtspent the day taking me around the district. Schools were out but large numbers of teachers and administrators were participating in summer PD sessions. We visited a unique Summer School for students who were behind but rather than typical summer school makeup work, they were taking part in makerspace program. “We Make Makers” (see video) is one of district slogans. We valbemarle2isited schools and looked at spaces that were renovated based on proposals submitted by teachers and administrators through the district’s Design 2015 initiative. We visited Agnor-Hurt Elementary with Principal Michele Del Gallo Castner and saw its multi-age K-5 classroom. We got to the last hour of a 3-day Buck Institute for Education PBL 101 training and to my delight, it was led by my old Indiana colleague Brad Sever. What is totally unique about ACPS is how a culture of innovation has penetrated all levels of the district’s staff, from classified to teachers to site administrators to central administrators. Pam Moran became superintendent in 2002 and has continually asked district staff, through RFPs, to generate, and then implement, new 21st century teaching and learning.








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