Jennie Niles started her career as a s
cience teacher at the famous
Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. She now leads the equally famous
E. L. Haynes Public Charter School
in Washington DC. The path in between could not have been better scripted: Yale for graduate school, a state department of education, a foundation,
then New Leaders.
Like Leadership Public Schools in Oakland, E.L.
Haynes is both a top performing school and an innovation hub. I usually recommend against schools developing software, but these schools routinely advance
the field by producing important edtech innovations.
In 2004, Niles put together a great founding board including Jim Shelton, now Assistant Deputy Secretary at ED. The P-10 school serves 950 students and is
adding a grade a year to become a graduating campus. Last year, 90 percent of the eighth graders scored proficient or advanced in math and 75 percent
scored proficient or advanced in reading.
The first social enterprise to emerge from E.L. Haynes was LearnZillion, a professional development platform
founded by former principal and Chief Academic Officer Eric Westendorf and former teacher Alix Guerrier. Today, LearnZillion announced the addition of 2000
Common Core lessons developed by a Gates Foundation funded “Dream Team” of 123 teachers.
LearnZillion received funding from NewSchools Venture Fund, the Achievement Network, O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, and Learn Capital (where I’m a partner).
LearnZillion is now being piloted in more than 20 DC schools and 150 other schools throughout the country.
The second major innovation to emerge from Jennie’s school is SchoolForce, 15 open source learning management
modules. Twenty-Five schools from New York to New Orleans serving more than 10,000 student use at least some of the modules.
“SchoolForce is a whole platform,” said Niles, “So there is technology support for all the steps in data-driven decision making including collaborative
work tools, as well as tracking, storing, and analyzing capabilities, all within the same solution.”
Funded by grants, contracts, and some pro bono coding from Acumen Solutions, the modules include three versions of standards-based gradebooks, homework
tracker, behavior tracker, meal tracker, and an attendance module. Jennie recognized early on that E.L. Haynes would benefit from the network effects of
large user base and decided to make modules open source to encourage widespread adoption.
Niles has created a model school that benefits hundreds of students in the nation’s capital. The culture of innovation she created continues to spin out
innovations that advance the field and benefit thousands of students.
LearnZillion is a Learn Capital company where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.
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.