Not everyone is passionate enough about personalized learning to move 3,750 miles for their kids to attend a model school. But that’s exactly what my husband and I did two years ago, when we packed our sandy belongings, shipped our rusty minivan, and said goodbye to Honolulu, Hawaii so our five kids could attend one of our favorite blended-learning schools in Austin, Texas. (I wrote about the school here and talked about it in this webinar.)

Fortunately, a crop of new blended programs is ripening this summer, and by fall 2014, parents should have several similarly desirable options for personalized learning in cities around the country. I recently helped in the judging process for the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) Wave IV competition, which awarded $6.6 million in grants to 38 recipients working to personalize learning for students. Contestants earned points for submitting school plans that are student-centered, mastery-based (which means that students move forward as soon as they’re ready), and that empower students to manage their own learning.

Below are my notes with a few highlights for each of the Wave IV planning grant winners, categorized by state. Read NGLC’s complete descriptions here. All of these are in the planning stage, and some may never get off the ground. But with any luck, one of these beauties might be forming in a city by you (or you can always move!).


Piedmont Middle School (Piedmont) – Piedmont City School District is intent on developing a sustainable model for small town and rural America. The plan is to reimagine the process of teaching and learning by transitioning to a mastery-based, personalized-learning model. 


Incubator School (Inc.) (Los Angeles) – At this entrepreneurship-focused school, students will learn how to start a business. Inc’s model relies on all the good stuff: self-paced learning, project-based cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning, and game-based learning. 

EPIC Charter School (Oakland) – This model integrates the best of gaming to challenge its students to become heroes, earn points for their houses, and develop a sense of Hogwarts-like belonging as they partake in interdisciplinary quests.

Caliber Schools: K-8 Charter (Richmond) – Combines the high expectations of a “no excuses” charter school with the personalization and data-driven education of blended learning, and the critical thinking and collaborative skills of project-based learning.

Idea High School (San Mateo) – In  a four-year design advisory, students will learn design thinking, engineering, and entrepreneurial skills based on the framework conceptualized by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

Thrive Public Schools (San Diego) – For its first two K‐8 public charter schools, Thrive will incorporate social-emotional learning and project-based learning into blended learning. (The plan also mentions tinkering, robotics, arts, chess—fun!)


Project TAM (Statewide) – Florida Virtual School’s Project TAM will develop a blended-learning model where students take Florida Virtual School courses in brick-and-mortar Community Learning Centers. My colleague Michael Horn comments about this project here.

S.A.I.L. Charter Academy (Punta Gorda) – This New Tech Network school will be designed around four concepts: personalization, relevancy, flexibility, and outcomes. The teacher role is disaggregated into three specialists: Learning Analysts, Project Guides, and Academic Coaches.


Boston Day and Evening Academy 2.0 (Boston) – Serves students who are over-age for grade level and who are either at high risk for dropping out or have already dropped out of high school. BDE is partnering with Project Adventure to incorporate adventure-based experiential education into its design. Ropes courses, anyone?


New High School (Detroit) – The Education Achievement Authority of Michigan behind this school is focused on turning around Detroit’s low achieving schools. The model will not have age-based grade levels or traditional bell schedules. It will replace classrooms with open-space labs.

The Campus for Connected Learning (Sterling Heights) – Utica Community Schools, Michigan’s second largest public school district, is piloting this model, which centers on blended learning, mastery-based learning, and a system of adaptive and project-based assessments.


Brooklyn Laboratory Schools (LAB) (Brooklyn) – LAB will educate high-need urban students, especially English Language Learners and special education students. The academic model is built on “no excuses” culture and game-based adaptive learning during an extended school day.

iZone Academy (New York) – The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) Office of Innovation (iZone) plans to design a new school model that disrupts the systemic structures of age-based cohorts, scheduling, space, grading policies, and more.

Pan American International Community Academy (Queens) – This school’s focus is Latino youth with incomplete high schooling who are disengaged from schools due to the economic demands of their families.


World Class Schools (City to be determined) – Based on the work of the nonprofit Public Impact, this school is dedicated to extending the reach of excellent teachers. Students will receive live in-person and remote instruction from teachers across its network.


The New School for Men (Cleveland) – Serving African American males, the “high touch” model will combine a high level of social and emotional support with individualized, self-paced, online learning and master-based learning to help students graduate.

MetroTech (Columbus) — This school uses a mastery approach to help students complete high school in as few as two years. Through internships and post-secondary coursework, students graduate ready to begin a career if they choose.

The Engine School (Lakewood) – The curriculum, physical space, and community of learners are centered on the concept of the Makerspace, which will empower students to identify, articulate, and design solutions to real-world problems.


Lane County Early College High School (Eugene) – Located in the heart of Lane Community College’s 300 acre campus, this school is an integration of high school and college, including collaboration between both faculty, a mix of high school and college courses, and access to the college’s student services.

Warm Springs K-8 School (Warm Springs) – Located on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, this school will adopt a personalized, mastery-based model pioneered by Richard DeLorenzo, former Superintendent of the Chugach School District in Alaska.


Building 21 (Philadelphia) – The B21 academic model will organize learning into pathways, studios, and modules that customize learning based on individual needs. The menu will include online and blended learning; individual-, small-, and large-group instruction; and project-based and real-world learning.


Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy High School (Cumberland) – BVP Prep will feature a Rotation blended-learning model and blocks of individualized learning time (called “Whatever I Need” [WIN] time—extra points for the clever acronym!).


Magnolia Montessori For All (Austin) – This new charter operator will run schools that blend best practices from “no excuses” charter schools, an authentic Montessori approach, and technology-enabled learning. Glad to see this promising school coming to my hometown!

PHILO Finance Corp. (Southeastern TX) – PHILO will partner with an underperforming school district in the southeast Texas region to turnaround a middle school by integrating the KIPP model with the power of student-centered, personalized blended learning.

Texas Technology, Teaching, and Innovation Portfolio (Dallas and Houston) – In this partnership, Educate Texas will help Coppell and Spring Independent School Districts implement blended-learning pilots at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.


Memphis Academy of Innovation and Leadership (Memphis) – This school is patterned after VOISE Academy, located in one of Chicago’s most underserved communities, which has produced significant gains and success for its students.

 Valor Collegiate Academy (Nashville) – Founded by a former leader of Summit Public Schools in California, VCA will have a “gradual release” academic model in which students experience a decrease in structure over the course of eight years, earning more autonomy as they grow.


Out of the Box Learning Studio (Seattle) – This model reimagines almost everything about “school:” the role of the teacher, what and where a classroom is, what constitutes curriculum, the purpose of technology and its role in learning, and how proficiency is conceived, demonstrated, and accounted for.

Tacoma Academy of Arts and Technology (Tacoma) – The learning environment of the school will involve flexible space with up to 60 students engaged in small-group activities directly with the teachers, working independently on their projects, or doing self-paced online activities.


West Allis-West Milwaukee School District (West Allis) – And last but not least, this district plans to create personalized, deep learning environments tailored to meet the needs of individual learners for all 9,500 students in the district. The complete redesign features individual learning plans for every student. Sounds like if none of the programs above has room for you, time to pack your bags for Wisconsin!


  • Heather Staker
    Heather Staker

    Heather Staker is an adjunct fellow at the Christensen Institute, specializing in K–12 student-centered teaching and blended learning. She is the co-author of "Blended" and "The Blended Workbook." She is the founder and president of Ready to Blend, and has authored six BloomBoard micro-credentials for the “Foundations of Blended Learning” educator micro-endorsement.