We have an exciting announcement: Alex Ragone will serve as Head of School for AltSchool Union Square, our new middle school campus opening in New York in fall 2017. Alex brings two decades of experience leading and teaching in independent schools in New York City. He is currently the Head of School for AltSchool East Village, and is looking forward to growing AltSchool’s New York community.
Get to know Alex and his vision for AltSchool Union Square.
Meet Alex Ragone
Over the past two decades, I’ve had the great privilege of creating change in education, which has only deepened my passion to continue down this path. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from George Washington University and a master's degree in Instructional Design and Media from Teachers College at Columbia University. I started my career as Technology Director at the progressive Calhoun School and then moved to Collegiate School, a more traditional all-boys school. At both schools, I worked to model and integrate student-centered teaching techniques powered by technology.
Prior to joining AltSchool, I worked as Director of Middle and Upper School at City and Country School in Manhattan, where I helped redesign the electives program. Students began by writing proposals about what they wanted to learn. We then assigned them to advisors who worked with them to achieve their goals. This process enabled students to develop agency, which I believe is deeply important to cultivate in learners.
In my current role, I lead the first AltSchool Manhattan campus in the East Village. I’m proud that our students play an integral role in shaping and defining the culture of the school. What’s especially exciting is the hard-working culture they’ve developed around their research practices and project-based learning. Together, we’ve successfully opened a new school and built a strong, caring community of students, parents, and educators. I’ll bring these learnings with me to AltSchool Union Square, where I look forward to examining the problems we face locally, nationally, and globally with middle school students -- and investigating solutions together.
Embracing Change in Middle School
As an educator, my goal is to create a supportive and adaptive learning environment for all students to take risks, grow, and develop as individuals, regardless of age or grade. However, middle school is a time of great change in a child’s life; it’s essential to focus on the whole child and to help students develop a strong sense of agency, so they can take more responsibility for their learning. Between fifth and eighth grade, students transition from childhood to young adulthood. With that transition comes many questions, opportunities for self-reflection, and great potential for growth and positive change. As Head of School, I work with classroom educators to create an environment that fosters a growth mindset, and enables students to discover their passions, pursue their interests, and ultimately learn to become independent thinkers.
Middle school also provides a unique opportunity from an academic perspective. Students shift from concrete to abstract thinking, and they understand how the past affects the present. Students enter middle school with very clear writing skills, they are confident mathematicians, and they ask great questions. Middle school is the time to solidify those core skills and help students apply them to the real world.
Vision for AltSchool Union Square
AltSchool Union Square will be a welcoming and diverse campus. Like our other campuses, we offer a whole-child, personalized approach to learning that fosters student agency. The Union Square educator team looks forward to working with families to help their children succeed as individuals and build strong relationships both at home and school. My goal for all students by the time they graduate from AltSchool is for them to be able to understand what they’ve learned, articulate how they will continue to grow as learners and individuals, and know how they want to make an impact on the world going forward.
I’m most excited about creating an environment in which students will be able to understand and appreciate a variety of perspectives. For example, as a group we might examine various historical movements -- such as studying the printing press and how it influenced China and Europe, or looking at democracy in the United States and how it was powered by both technology and great thinkers coming together at the right time. Challenges like this help students understand different viewpoints, seek creative solutions to problems at hand, and become the solution makers of the future.
Creating the Optimal School Environment
Collaborating with AltSchool educators, architects, and designers in developing this campus has been exciting because we are designing a space that reflects our priority on personalizing education. The goal is to make the space as functional as possible to support many different types of learning experiences -- such as specific areas for independent activities, small group work, and large group instruction. The communal spaces will showcase student work and provide areas for socializing as students arrive before morning meeting. There will be spaces designed for project-based learning, art, and maker and design-thinking activities. There will also be a theater space with tiered seating so we can gather as a whole school and foster a strong sense of community.
Union Square is a vibrant neighborhood. From the farmers market, local parks, small businesses, and neighboring schools, there is so much to explore. As a transit hub, Union Square also allows for quick travel to museums and other New York City landmarks. I’m so excited to learn more about the neighborhood and the city alongside our first cohort of students and families.
Middle School As A Time To Get To Know Yourself
I grew up in New Jersey, just a few miles away from New York City. I ran a newspaper route during my middle school years and considered myself a small business owner. That was also a time in my life when I started to learn more about who I was and the type of person I wanted to be. I learned how to make small but impactful changes every day -- whether that meant improving my delivery processes, being kind to a person in need on my route by shoveling their snow, or simply taking the time to ask about someone’s day. These types of learning experiences are so important at this age because they offer an opportunity to learn from mistakes and gain independence. I’m thrilled to design a middle school program that gives adolescents the opportunity to create similarly meaningful, personal memories with guidance and support from our expert AltSchool educators.