Among the questions I am most frequently asked by those intrigued by Parish’s entrepreneurial culture are “who are your sources of inspiration?” or “who do you follow in the world of education?”
Indeed, Parish exudes a boundless mindset readily perceptible to those introduced to us. Our expansion story of the last decade exemplifies it; the radical hospitality and warmth people feel when stepping on our campuses conveys it; and our audacious vision to reimagine the dimensions of school as we’ve long known them to be derives its energy from it.
But we do not walk alone along the explorer’s path. We solicit guidance and draw inspiration from voyagers on their own innovation expeditions. Such crusaders can be found in a variety of locales – at public and private peer schools (both nationally and globally), in the world of higher education, and even outside of education in the corporate sector. This month, I’ve chosen to highlight just a few of the boundary-breakers we admire.
Student work and glass: these are the first things you recognize when you enter High Tech High School in San Diego, as I did during a September visit.
This reimagined high school, which began in 2000 and has since morphed into a network of multi-grade schools, has broken with many of the predominate philosophies of present day schooling –there are no AP courses; curriculum engages students using projects framed from real world issues rather than sprinting through volumes of content. Learning leads students off campus to learn from and present findings to community members beyond the doors of the school building.
I visited High Tech High as one of four Heads of School serving on the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) Commission on Accreditation – the body composed of leaders from 20 organizations which accredit over 3600 schools worldwide. On school visits such as these, I look for a unifying vision which drives innovation.
High Tech High clearly has such a vision. If you follow my writing or speaking, or that of our other academic leaders, you know Parish does as well.
Beyond a compelling, forward-looking vision, I’m moved by institutions successfully driving innovation throughout their entire system. Our Reimagine vision is comprehensive. At present, driven by our mission’s charge to guide “creative learners” and by our “why” statements, our work focuses in several key areas:
- Articulating curricular content and skill mastery targets; these will open pacing pathways for students.
- Reconfiguring our time model; this will maximize student engagement and promote flexibility.
- Identifying a robust technological infrastructure to support the guiding, documenting and assessing of student learning.
Atop my list of most admired educational explorers is Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). In 2011, on a 21 hour flight from Kuala Lampur to New York, LeBlanc penned a thought paper which set Southern New Hampshire University on a course to be a recognized leader in competency based learning. In short, this model uses the results of assessment, not seat time, as an indicator of a student’s proficiency.
Not long after his initial musings on the topic, LeBlanc and SNHU launched College for America which now offers online degree programs for $3,000. And last month, SNHU was once again named one of the country’s most innovative universities. LeBlanc’s influence has had an extended reach. The entire public school system in LeBlanc’s state of New Hampshire has embraced this learning model which helps students reach new levels of mastery as they are ready. Read the full story “How New Hampshire Transformed to a Competency-Based System.”
As we bring our own Reimagine vision to life, we are watching and learning from
colleagues in the Granite State. Over the last 18 months, New Hampshire-based consultant Rose Colby – who has worked closely with many schools there on the redesign of their models – has teamed with Parish academic leaders to articulate curricular pathways in each subject from PreK -12th grade. This exhaustive undertaking will continue over the next 18-24 months, positioning us to launch our Reimagine model fully in August 2019.
But we know grand visions do not become realized at once. As such, identifiable prototypes of our Reimagine program can be found on both campuses:
- Personalized math programming in all three divisions features learning centers, problem sets, small group instruction and “adaptive” software like Dreambox designed to challenge students optimally. These models will inform how we balance the collaborative, hands-on learning we value with opportunities for more individualized learning.
- New Academic Support Teacher positions serving our 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades offer flexible, and smaller, groupings of students for more tailored learning. These positions may teach us lessons about new staffing configurations for our Reimagine model.
- Our most recently launched signature program, ParishBridge, remodels the final five weeks of senior year to feature student-directed learning on campus, online and in the community through a professional experience. This tailored, 12th grade capstone may present scalable features we can use in our Reimagine high school design.
Prototyping like this serves as a proving ground to better understand which vision-aligned, new strategies work well and can be brought to a larger scale as we Reimagine our total program. We take our lead here from corporate bastions of innovation, such as Google and Amazon, where the consistent prototyping of new concepts is endemic to the culture.
But even some of the country’s most esteemed – and tradition-rich – institutions like the University of Virginia and Georgetown University have begun to model this disposition. Georgetown initiated its “Designing the Future Initiative of the University” in 2013 and located it in a red townhouse adjacent to campus. In what has become known as “The Red House,” Vice-Provost for Education, Randy Bass, and colleagues have launched a series of pilot initiatives.
The goal? To fundamentally rethink “the structures of the traditional higher education model: including courses, credits tied to seat time, the 15-week semester, the four-year bachelor’s degree,” and the divide between curricular and co-curricular learning experiences. (Read more about the exciting pilots at Georgetown here.)
It all sounds very similar to Reimagine Parish.
There are many more sources of inspiration beyond the ones cited here. Any explorer embarking on an ambitious journey is wise to gather tools and insights from as many fellow travelers as he can. Our journey will be our own, however, and the Reimagine model we launch in 2019 – and tinker with almost daily in the interim – will indeed prepare our students to “impact the complex global society” in which they lead and serve. In doing so, it will be a model from which future educational innovators will gain inspiration.