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April 19, 2019

Charting a Path Together for the Future of AltSchool Lab Schools

Devin Vodicka

Today I am deeply humbled to say that our lab schools have become centers of excellence with high student achievement, family satisfaction, and teacher retention rates. We want to ensure those communities have a clear path for long-term sustainability independent of our work as a startup, and also independent of our increasing work as a partner for the public and private school market.

In February, AltSchool formed our first Steering Committees at our lab schools. The Committees are comprised of 100 parents and educators who are working together to create a vision for how each campus can achieve long-term sustainability.

As a former superintendent, I have seen first-hand that positive transformation is an adaptive challenge, one that is best navigated in community and in the constant mode of co-construction. This helps a community to have collective ownership. However, school systems are usually designed as hierarchies, intended to have directives flow from the top of the org chart down to the line workers in a predictable, orderly fashion. These types of systems are created for stability.

The challenge is that in reality none of us have all of the answers. This is particularly true in our rapidly changing world as a start-up, where not only the variables change, but the equation itself sometimes changes. For these reasons, engaging families in the process is essential to ensure that we share information and perspectives to help us collectively navigate the shifting context.

So, in these Steering Committees, families are learning about and evaluating every aspect of their children’s schools. That includes the program, governance model, funding and costs savings, outreach, and enrollment. They have already come together for more than 25 meetings across our 4 campuses, thereby representing a wide range of perspectives and expertise. They have volunteered many valuable hours to do everything from organizing town hall meetings to surveying other families. They are exploring a variety of possibilities, and asking questions like: what would it look like if a parent group took over operations? Or, should our campus become a 501c3, or partner with other similarly-aligned educational entities?

We have already learned a great deal through the Steering Committee process. Families have shared their experiences to help elevate our strategy in specific ways -- from identifying the programmatic components they most value (like personalization, project-based learning, and social-emotional development) to advocating for the features that matter most (like student-teacher relationships or class size). They are truly stepping forward to identify what is working and places we can improve as an organization.

Moreover, I am inspired by the families who embody the very tenets of the learner-centered education that we strive to nurture in our students -- characteristics such as grit, curiosity, and creativity. We know that life is and should always be a “work in progress.” As adults we know that type of rhetoric is easy, but the practice itself is quite hard. I am confident that the modeling from our families will be profoundly impactful for our young learners who take their cues from all of our behavior. We are fortunate to be in community with so many who are changing the world by modeling the way to the future.  

As a school leader, I fundamentally believe that building systems and procedures to promote internal connectedness is imperative. It is in community that we can step back, reflect, and determine necessary adjustments. It is in community that we create the capacity to address emergent challenges. It is in community that we transform.

Read more: AltSchool in 2019: Progress and Lessons Learned
3 Strategies to Transform Your School District Now
A Declaration for a Learner-Centered Future

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