Visiting Schools in the NewSchools Catapult Cohort (Post 3 of 3)

January 20, 2016

Over the last three months, we have been convening, learning from, and visiting schools across the country that are in our Catapult 2015 cohort. Each school we support is reimagining, redesigning and recreating the student experience.

Through a series of blog posts, we are excited to highlight these schools and some of the ways they are building personalization, student agency and an expanded definition of student success into their models. If you know anyone launching an innovative school, learn more about funding opportunities through NewSchools Catapult.

In the first blog, we visited Intrinsic and Roots Elementary, which are leveraging flexible scheduling to personalize learning for students. And we visited Thrive and Detroit Achievement Academy, which are using project-based learning to expand the definition of student success. In the second blog we traveled to Building 21, USC East College Prep, Brooklyn Lab and A+UP, which are all using competency-based progression to personalize learning for students and build student agency.

Today we will travel to Nashville, Richmond (California) and Dallas where Valor Voyager Academy, Caliber Schools and Solar Preparatory School for Girls, respectively, are emphasizing social, emotional learning and mindset development to build student agency and expand the definition of student success. Then we will head to Indianapolis and Nampa where Phalen Leadership Academies and Gem Innovations schools are bringing personalized learning to new markets.

Emphasizing SEL and Mindsets to build student agency

Valor Collegiate Academies is a growing network of free, public, college-preparatory charter schools that will serve students in 5th-8th grade. Valor’s model is entirely student-centered. Each student has a faculty mentor that oversees his/her overall development and Personalized Learning Plan.FamilyResources[1] All courses have competency-based grading and students will be gradually released to a nearly fully self-paced model. A wide variety of blended learning is also used throughout the model. All of this is both built on and deeply integrated with a comprehensive social emotional learning program the Valor team developed called Compass. This program intends to build both the skills and mindsets students need to be successful in school and life. 160114 - Valor CompassTo learn more about how Compass is implemented at Valor, check out this EdSurge article. Valor goes beyond helping just their students develop social emotional skills; they are also developing an adult social emotional program so that teachers and staff are both prepared and supported on their own social emotional journeys.  


Caliber Schools is a free, public, non-selective charter school serving students in TK-8th grade. Core features of the Caliber program include personalized learning plans, one-on-one coaching sessions for students to set goals and learning strategies, blended learning for English and Math, project-based learning for science and social studies, peer-to-peer learning, and computer coding starting in kindergarten. All of these pieces of the 160114 - Caliber SELinstructional model are built on an explicit social emotional curriculum based on the principles of Restorative Justice. At Caliber, students participate in daily restorative justice circles, designed to teach student to speak and listen respectfully in a group setting. These restorative justice circles form the basis for conflict resolution and the development of a sense of community and personal self-esteem. To learn more about Restorative Justice, check out this Edutopia article.


Solar Preparatory Schools for Girls (Solar) is a government-operated district school in the Dallas Independent Schools District that will open this fall and will eventually serve students in K-8th grade. Solar’s model focuses on three priorities: 1) single-gender, research-based instruction in a socioeconomically diverse model; 2) hands-on, performance-based STEAM learning using design thinking and blended learning; and 3) social emotional learning to build self-awareness, empathy, positive mindsets and emotional intelligence that will create a gateway for more meaningful academic learning. Solar has a set of competencies (The Solar Six) that include empathy, grit, growth mindset, curiosity, self-awareness and confidence. In addition to teaching non-cognitive skills in weekly standalone lessons, SEL will be a common thread running through daily interactions, literature studies and other academic subjects. Students and teachers will assess student progress on The Solar Six through portfolios starting in kindergarten and continuing through 8th grade. Students will also set goals around the The Solar Six and track their progress.solar3

Innovations in New Markets

Phalen Leadership Academies (PLA) is a network of public charter schools in Indianapolis. They opened their first charter school in in Fall 2013, with a focus on personalized learning that includes a rotational blended learning model to increase small group instruction and a focus on social emotional learning. In Spring 2014, Indiana passed a law enabling Indiana Public Schools (IPS) to authorize Innovation Network Schools. These schools operate in district buildings, usually with the same students attending the school, but have increased autonomy over model, budget, class size, and length of school day, allowing school leaders to implement innovative school models. PLA opened its second school by restarting Francis Scott Key 103, as an IPS school. PLA is a charter school with performance benchmarks set by the district. To read more about the legislation 160114 - PLAsupporting the creation of the Innovation Network Schools, check out the overview of the law at the Mind Trust website.


Gem Innovation Schools (Gem) is a rapidly growing charter management organization in Idaho.  Gem began as a high-performing distance learning model (Idaho Distance Education Academy) 160114 - Gemand currently serves approximately 750 K-12 students throughout the state of Idaho. Gem plans to open its first brick and mortar school in Nampa in Fall 2016, making it the first CMO in the state of Idaho. Gem comes to the design of its school in Nampa with extensive experience personalizing learning for students and leveraging technology in creative ways.


Next Stop: Catapult 2016

This concludes our travels to schools in our Catapult 2015 cohort.  We are excited and inspired by the hard work they are doing to personalize learning for students, build student agency and expand the definition of student success so that all students can achieve their most ambitious plans and dreams. Soon we will know who will be joining this league of innovative schools in the Catapult 2016 cohort.  If you or anyone you know is launching an innovative school in 2017, check out the funding opportunity with NewSchools Catapult.