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Scaling a Personalized Education Model: Reflections on the Past Twelve Months

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Mar 4, 2015 7:53:00 AM

Last March we announced $33 Million in funding from Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, and other leading investors. Since then AltSchool has opened three additional schools, increased enrollment from 20 to 150 students and more than tripled company headcount – from 30 to 100+ employees. Over 2,200 candidates applied for 20 new teacher spots in 2014. This fall, AltSchool will open new schools from California to New York to accommodate 500 students in 2015.

Square0558At AltSchool, scale is at the heart of our approach. In fact, AltSchool is built in such a way that the more we grow, the more we are able to improve experiences for everyone involved. The bigger we get, the more feedback we can collect from students, parents, and teachers; the more best-practices and knowledge we can share internally through our product and community; and the more we can empower teachers and parents to create personalized experiences for each student.

Today, as we begin a new chapter by welcoming domain experts to our executive team in Engineering, Safety, Product Management, and Finance, we’re sharing achievements from the past twelve months that will set us up for continued growth and innovation.

Expanding from Single to Networked Schools

When we started AltSchool, our goal was to build a network of schools rather than a standalone school. That networked approach enables us to simultaneously maintain small, intimate class sizes while expanding to more students and families. In 2014, we successfully grew from a single school to four schools in San Francisco and will open in Palo Alto and Brooklyn later this year while we add expand to two additional neighborhoods in San Francisco.

The AltSchool platform is built for sharing knowledge across our teacher network; it enables our educators to actively create curriculum in ways that make it easy for other educators to access and build on the work of others throughout subsequent years. During 2014, our technology empowered educators to track and manage every facet of their students’ education; moving towards a future we often describe as “Montessori 2.0.”

The first step has been logging and tagging curriculum choices within the platform. Beginning this year, our system will start “pushing” information to educators to help them to proactively enhance students’ learning – from discovering the best techniques to teach difficult algebra problems to recommending phonics tools that are particularly useful for beginning readers. AltSchool educators will have a rich pool of resources to draw from to build personalized learning plans for individual students or to enhance the classroom experience by sourcing vetted best practices from other educators within the network.

Collecting and Actioning Real-time Student, Parent, and Teacher Feedback

AltSchool actively solicits and drives internal improvement by collecting regular feedback from three critical stakeholders: students, parents, and teachers. We have three internal teams who are respectively focused on increasing the satisfaction of each group. This way, students, parents, and teachers are co-creators in the educational experience and AltSchool can respond in real-time to their needs.

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In 2014, we asked students to evaluate and rank their education experience at AltSchool. Students shared their perspective on ten categories that included everything from interest in subjects to their classroom environment. Based on student preferences, we are “unbundling” extracurricular activities, restructuring the balance of indoor versus outdoor play spaces and finding new ways to incorporate video into the academic experience.

For parents, our focus began with a goal of continuous and efficient communication, a system in which information flows in both directions. But our commitment to parent satisfaction extends beyond that; we also rely on parents to help us shape our schools and inform our products. Over the past year, we introduced quarterly Parent Satisfaction Surveys. Through our survey program, we learned that parents prefer to be notified about their child’s learning achievements differently, depending on the type of information being shared. For example, parents might like to see a video of their five year-old reading her first sentence immediately, while an update on a long-term project may be better communicated in a weekly Learning Update.

Moving forward, we’re developing a newsfeed-like resource to support real-time updates on student progress, as well as a Learning Progression datasheet (a cumulative overview that summarizes key information to track students’ progress against standards). We also learned that parents want more opportunities to connect with other AltSchool families. We recently hired a Head of Community to work with parents to accelerate and nurture classroom, site, and network-wide relationships.

We’ve also implemented a series of programs to support and help empower our teachers. For example, each month teachers take a 130-point Teacher Satisfaction Survey to proactively evaluate how we can improve their experience. That includes everything from offering professional development opportunities to how well substitute teachers perform to lunch options. Our School Experience Committee meets with teachers on a weekly basis to shape policies in a way that will ensure their success. Plus, we’ve leveraged a customer support portal to manage day-to-day workflow as issues arise. In the past year alone we’ve processed hundreds of requests from educators, solving actual teacher problems in real-time so that they can focus on students.  

Offline Learning Augmented by Increased Digital Tracking and Monitoring

Square1162The majority of student learning at AltSchool happens away from a screen. Technology, however, enables us to document and track progress in each student’s Learner Portrait, a sort of supercharged transcript. Technology allows us to capture all aspects of a student’s work, including a teacher’s assessment and the student’s own reflection on each assignment.

Next year, the amount of real-world work captured digitally in a Learner Portrait will more than double. This documentation supercharges teachers' abilities to communicate the richness of the school day home to parents and create digital student portfolios. Such tools also help to consolidate information for teachers to review more efficiently and to showcase examples of completed student work for future reference.

We also successfully prototyped several tools to impact personalization, with many more to be integrated into our platform next year. For example, the Teacher Observation Tool is an iPad / iPhone software product that gives educators an easy way to capture scans of learning artifacts in the classroom and away from school so that the information is directly absorbed into the AltSchool Learning Cycle suite of products. As we find more ways to learn from the community outside of the classroom, we are leveraging technology that enables us to integrate these experiences into our digital learning platform.

These changes reflect our ideology in action, always using first principles as our guide to completely reimagine education from the ground up. We look forward to sharing more behind-the-scenes updates about how we’re working to make AltSchool’s vision of a modern, 21st century education a reality for all children.

Read our March 4, 2015 press release announcing new additions to our leadership team: https://www.altschool.com/press-release-3-15 

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Topics: AltSchool Innovation, AltSchool in the Press

Max Ventilla in Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business

Posted by The AltSchool Team

May 12, 2014 5:31:00 PM

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We are honored to announce that AltSchool's founder, Max Ventilla, is featured in Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business for 2014 for bringing the startup model to education. 

This announcement comes hot off the press from Fast Company's feature story, How This Startup's "Micro-School" Network Could Change the Way We Educate Now

Fast Company writes: 

"Today AltSchool is a tiny experiment, but its goals are far more ambitious than its footprint would suggest. While other education startups are zeroing in on specific pain points, AltSchool is taking a comprehensive, “full-stack" approach -- a Silicon Valley spin on the idea of value chains -- and is experimenting in ways that could overturn our every assumption about how schools operate and evolve."

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Topics: AltSchool in the Press

Disrupt NY: Max Speaks on Innovation in Education

Posted by The AltSchool Team

May 7, 2014 4:41:00 PM

AltSchool founder Max Ventilla spoke on the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt NY this morning.

In a panel discussion with journalist Leena Rao and Amplify CEO and former New York City Education Chancellor Joel Klein, Max chats about the nature of innovation in education and what success means for AltSchool. 

Check out the video below:

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Topics: AltSchool in the Press, Thoughts from Our Founder

TechCrunch Video: Inside an AltSchool Classroom

Posted by Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D.

May 2, 2014 12:56:00 PM

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TechCrunch visited our Dogpatch classroom to get an inside look into the AltSchool experience.

In the first video, journalist Leena Rao speaks with teachers Carolyn Wilson (Director of Education) and Lauren Hancock to understand the dynamics of our classroom. Leena also speaks with an upper elementary student to get a firsthand demonstration of an AltSchool personalized playlist. 

In the second video, Leena chats one-on-one with Max to understand his perspective on education as an entrepreneur and father. 

Check out the videos here.

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Topics: AltSchool in the Press, Dogpatch Classroom

Ask Me Anything: Max Chats Live on Reddit

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Apr 18, 2014 2:37:00 PM

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Our founder, Max Ventilla, chatted about the future of AltSchool, education, and entrepreneurship on Reddit this morning.

The AMA session was organized by one of our investors, the Collaborative Fund, as part of their Social Citizens campaign. In 90 minutes, Max answered over 20 questions from the community - ranging from most memorable teacher to favorite place to get a burrito in San Francisco. 

Check out the stimulating conversation and learn more from Max about why we do what we do.  

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Topics: AltSchool in the Press, Thoughts from Our Founder

AltSchool Featured on KQED's Mind/Shift

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Apr 17, 2014 11:47:00 AM

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It's an honor to have an in-depth feature about AltSchool on the front page of Mind/Shift this morning. We're big fans of KQED's education blog and often look to their writers and researchers for the latest stories in the world of learning. 

Check out the article and let us know what you think!

Max Ventilla (Founder and CEO), Carolyn Wilson (Director of Education), Komal Sethi (CTO), and Anna Cueni (VP of Operations) all contributed to this inspirational story. 

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Topics: AltSchool in the Press

A Big Day for the AltSchool Team

Posted by Max Ventilla

Mar 18, 2014 6:32:00 AM

Max_Ventilla_for_AltSchoolA year ago, what started as a preschool search for my daughter became a hard look at today's education options. The next thing I knew, the question of whether we'd be admitted to the right school for us became a quest to create ideal options for more parents. In starting a new school system that can scale and improve with scale, we have stood on the shoulders of giants; from both the education space and from the broader technology space around us. I am incredibly grateful for what’s been possible in twelve short months.

Not long after I had the idea of AltSchool, I was joined by more than a dozen world-class team-members -- child-centered educators, engineers, designers, and operations experts -- many of whom I’d had the pleasure of working with in the past. Together we opened a pilot school (in two months) that fully personalized education in a classroom setting. Since then, we’ve kept learning by doing, building technologies to better serve students, parents, and teachers. The thirty-three million dollars in Series A funding that we’re announcing today allows us to keep building AltSchool’s R&D engine, offering continuously improving, customized, whole-child learning across a growing number of AltSchools throughout the Bay Area.

We are thrilled to have Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz lead this investment round. Their experience with transformational businesses is unmatched and, together, we are committed to bringing that passion and innovation into the world of primary education. The involvement of education heavyweights John Doerr, Jonathan Sackler, Learn Capital, and Omidyar Network underscores the contributions we can make to the school ecosystem in the U.S. and beyond. Finally, we are extremely pleased to receive substantial follow-on funding from First Round Capital and Harrison Metal, who backed us before there was much to back besides an idea and a team.

At AltSchool, we are mission-driven at our core. To that end, I am proud to announce that in conjunction with this fundraise, AltSchool is starting the process to become a certified B Corp. -- a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social problems. We plan to offer the best education possible for countless students over the coming decades and today marks a massive inflection in our ability to reach that goal. My sincerest thanks to the parents, students, teachers, team-members, and investors who have put their trust in AltSchool to date. We will continue to work incredibly hard to justify that trust.  

Onwards and Altwards...

Funding Press Release

 
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Topics: AltSchool in the Press, Thoughts from Our Founder

AltSchool Featured in Fast Company

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Dec 10, 2013 11:59:00 AM

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Fast Company interviewed our founder, Max Ventilla, to learn about the AltSchool vision to create a high quality, personalized education at scale.

In the interview, Max says, “In my world, things get better the more people that are using them."

This is the AltSchool opportunity – to grow a network of excellent K-8 schools modeled on continuous innovation. 

The article also spotlights:

  • how we use R&D to create a rigorous educational experience
  • a few of our upcoming tools for improving teacher observations and reflections

  • the benefits of the small “micro-school” form factor


Read more here: "A Former Google Exec Reinvents Elementary Education."
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Topics: AltSchool in the Press

TechCrunch Reports on the AltSchool Story

Posted by Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D.

Dec 2, 2013 11:47:00 AM

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TechCrunch visited AltSchool this past week! In the article, Leena Rao offers her take on: 

  • why we personalize learning,  
  • how we customize "playlists" for individualized education, and
  • why we emphasize R&D for continuous innovation.

Read more in the article here

If you would like to hear firsthand how AltSchool can benefit your child, come to our next info session. You can learn more directly from our founder, Max Ventilla, and our Director of Education, Carolyn Wilson. 

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Topics: AltSchool in the Press

AltSchool Featured in the SF Chronicle

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 18, 2013 11:59:00 AM

Screen_Shot_2013-11-15_at_2.02.42_PMThe buzz about AltSchool is beginning! In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Jill Tucker writes about the vision of our founder, Max Ventilla, and why he decided to start a network of micro-schools dedicated to personalized learning.

In the article, Tucker highlights:
  • How AltSchool uses student passion to drive achievement  

  • Why AltSchool has mixed-age classrooms

  • Max’s recipe for success
Read more in the article, “Learning to Make A Profit and a Difference.”
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Topics: AltSchool in the Press