Education Opinion

CityBridge is Changing the School Landscape in DC

By Tom Vander Ark — October 21, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The combination of energized knowledgeable teacher leaders and a grant program supporting whole school design will change the K-12 landscape in Washington

CityBridge Foundation
was formed by Katherine and David Bradley in 1994. For the last dozen years it has served as a best practices shop for DC schools with an initial focus on
early learning.

In 2013, CityBridge and NewSchools launched the Education Innovation Fellowship, a extraordinary opportunity for a dozen teacher leaders.
They meet monthly for a year and visited innovative schools in New York and California. I met with the Fellows in June to discuss 10 Big Blended Learning Questions. The Fellows will have learned everything we know about next-gen tools and models over the course of the year.
They brought their principals with them to three sessions to get them excited about the opportunity. The Education Innovation Fellows are ambassadors for
the implementation of effective blended learning models in D.C.

The Fellows are accelerating the conversation in a city that had a nascent interest in blended learning models:

  • In 2012, DCPS brought New Classrooms’ innovative Teach to One model to Hart Middle School.

  • Ingenuity Prep, a new public charter school operating on a blended model, opened in Ward 8 this fall.

  • DCPS is investing in the blended redesign of a four-school feeder pattern in Ward 8 over the course of 2013-2014 school year.

  • Rocketship Education, a charter management organization recognized nationally for its high-performing blended schools in California, received
    approval from the D.C. Public Charter School Board to open as many as eight schools beginning in 2015.

The Big Breakthrough.
In September, CityBridge announced Breakthrough Schools: DC, a whole school design grant program in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (see Getting Smart feature).

Many of the Fellows have already created or joined teams to proposed new or transformed schools. The combination of training teacher leaders and then
offering whole school design grants is a unique and potent combination.

The Breakthrough Schools planning grants will likely go to an interesting mixture of district and charter schools, new and redesigned schools, and led by
locals as well as a few national recruits.

Katherine Bradley
assembled a really talented team at CityBridge. Executive Director Mieka Wick came from New Profit and chairs the board for the DC Scholars
Public Charter School. Margaret Angell directs the Fellowship program. She worked for DCPS, Boston Public Schools, and served as a White House

“The most important change was in the Fellows’ orientation--we challenged them to figure out how they are going to do something different that will really
benefit students, really change the student experience,” said Angell. “While most PD is about conveying information, we did something distinctly different.
We said there is awesome stuff going on out there that you can learn from but only you know your kids. So the design is up to you.”

The Fellows came back from their April trip to California with an overwhelming energy. The school visits, especially to KIPP Empower and Alliance BLAST,
motivated them to rearrange their furniture the next Monday morning. The Fellows embraced the DNA of the Fellowship that it is not a training on what to
do, but rather a mindset of innovation and improvement. With that in mind, many of the Fellows are now committed to sharing their ideas and have become
contributors to BlendMyLeaning.

With $1 million in support from Microsoft the 2014 fellowship will be expanded to up to 20 participants.

Mieka has worked closely with Pam Cantor and the team at Turnaround for Children which has supported improvement efforts at five high challenge
schools including Wheatley, a k-8 school. It’s likely that Turnaround will join at least one Breakthrough applicant in proposing a blended and fortified environments that supports the needs of individual students.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.