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Live From Summit 2017: The Path to Redesigning Schools

This lively session was moderated by Transcend Education Co-Founder, Aylon Samouha. Joining him as panelists were Cynthia Robinson-Rivers, Head of School at Van Ness Elementary, Eli Kramer, Executive Director of Hiawatha Academies, and Jenn Charlot, from Transcend Education. The session discusses the work of two school leaders on the path to redesigning their schools and the design principles they are using to help them get there.


The session highlights a few questions:

  • How do we move from the probable to the possible when our school system was designed to get to a moderate set of outcomes?
    • Transcend’s Aylon Samouha says we need to figure out a whole new trajectory grounded in outcomes that are deeper and broader. The inputs of school redesign must be the aspiration of our students, the demands of the future, and learning science.
  • What might future models need to look like?
    • Transcend takes a broad approach and helps leaders design for a set of attributes. For example, future school models will move from seeing stsudents as obedient, passive recipients to active owners who drive learning. And Parents will go from passive customers to active partners


Cynthia Robinson-Rivers shared how her school designed for the exceptional. Student “Christopher” came to their school having been suspended 14 times the prior year. They implemented several accomodations for him such as having a quiet breakfast, doing movement breaks, and spending a few minutes during lunch doing yoga and mindfulness. His improvement was dramatic and Cynthia realized that other students could benefit from these same accomodations. As a result, students now come to school and have breakfast in their classroom, rather than in a large cafeteria setting. At breakfast they set a goal for the day and eat with a couple of peers. The school also incorporated a mindfulness minute at the beginning and end of each day, as well as movement breaks, yoga, and a makers space. These and many other social emotional components were brought into the school day. The result? Children are outperforming other students in the district.

Eli Kramer’s journey took a very personal turn when he decided to enroll his own kids in the school system he runs, spuring deeper engagement and listening. Of the five schools that are part of the Haiwatha Academies, 4 schools will continue with the current model while 1 school will be making some big bets. Eli hopes to redesign Haiwatha Academies to give students more agency, choice and freedom. He wants to see the Academies educate students in a way that reflects how interconnected our world is. And he wants school to be relevant to the community and the world.


The session ended with an design exercise aimed at the question: What would it take for children to be wildly motivated to learn?

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