Scaling the Hybrid Heights

Scaling the Hybrid Heights

Ednovate - USC Hybrid High College Prep’s third graduating class is stronger than ever. All 118 seniors are college-bound, with $3.2 million in confirmed grants and scholarships.

by Diane Krieger

David Hernandez (advisor) and his advisory are pictured above.

David Hernandez (advisor) and his advisory are pictured above.

There’s sibling rivalry … and then there’s crosstown sibling rivalry. Come September, Addison Arnold will be a Trojan while his twin, Anaya, will become a Bruin. But no “House Divided” flag will ever wave over the South-Central L.A. family home. The twins refuse to let school pride come between them.

“We’ll help each other out,” Anaya vowed.

“We’re getting the best of both worlds,” Addison agreed. “We’ll have

the connections from both campuses.”

The spirit of “positive multigenerational change”—the driving force behind Ednovate - USC Hybrid High College Prep —runs strong in the Arnold twins. They were among the 118 seniors to walk across the Bovard Auditorium stage in an emotional June 9 graduation ceremony.

Founded in 2012 by the USC Rossier School of Education, the fast- rising charter school graduated its third class on June 9. With $3.2 million in confirmed first-year grants and scholarships, all 118 seniors from the Class of 2018 are college-bound, matching the 100 percent graduation rate and college acceptance rate of the first two USC Hybrid High senior classes. Addison Arnold will study neuroscience at USC Dornsife College, and Anaya will pursue biology at UCLA. The twins received admission offers from both elite schools, but after touring the campuses, Anaya couldn’t see herself anywhere but UCLA, while Addison loved everything about USC. Between scholarships and financial aid, the twins will attend loan-free and graduate debt-free. Their mother, Delcia Samuels, wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotions triggered by the ceremony.

“This is unbelievable,” she said, as she watched Anaya and Addison pose for pictures with family members. “I can’t even explain the feelings that came over me. I did not think this day would come at all.” The twins, she explained, had been born very premature. At 26 weeks gestational age, their birth weights were 1 pound and 1 1/ 2 pound. They spent their first three months of life in a neonatal unit, and it wasn’t a sure-thing that they would survive, let alone grow into healthy, accomplished honors students. Their helplessness at birth prompted Samuels to go back to school and become a pediatric nurse. Her oldest son, Paul, 21, is also studying to be a nurse at Cal Poly Pomona. Both Anaya and Addison hope to be physicians someday.

Anaya and Addison Arnold, twin siblings, are pictured above.

Anaya and Addison Arnold, twin siblings, are pictured above.

As the Hybrid High seniors filed into Bovard in their burgundy caps and gowns, ecstatic cheers and whistles drowned out Elgar’s stately “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Arianna Brown kicked off the program with a soulful rendition of the national anthem. An honors student, Brown is headed for Vassar College in the fall.

Anaya Arnold sat on the stage with the other dignitaries —Principal Mide Macaulay, Ednovate co-founder Oliver Sicat, and featured speakers Maria Ott from the USC Rossier faculty and Hybrid High math teacher Kristophe Malone.

Not only had Anaya’s 4.2 GPA placed her among Hybrid High’s top-ten graduates, but she’d also been nominated student speaker by her classmates.

“There will be times when each of us thinks he or she is alone—our backs against a wall. But we are not alone,” Anaya reassured her classmates in her remarks.

Valedictorian Aléjandra Ruelas spoke passionately about her family. Mom had left school after sixth grade in Mexico, and dad had dropped out of high school to work. “I’m often reminded of my privilege in having access to a better education,” Ruelas said. “This is why I am up on this podium.” She has held the top GPA in her class for four straight years. With 12 college acceptances and $116,577 in total first-year grants and scholarships, Ruelas chose to attend UC Berkeley in the fall.

During the diploma ceremony, teacher and advisory group leader Rachel Matthews had trouble getting through her speech, swiping at tears and choked by emotion. “The 22 of you are the brightest part of my life,” she told the young men she’d advised for the past four years.

One by one, they wrapped her in bear hugs when they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. As their faces flashed on the overhead screen, an announcer read brief messages each senior had penned for the occasion.

“Thank you to Ms. Matthews for being my second-mom,” Juan Miranda- Lopez had written.

Mr. Mac (Principal), Alejandra Ruelas, Mary Salazar, and Anaya Arnold are on stage posing for the ceremonial graduation selfie with the rest of their Hybrid High senior class and families.

Mr. Mac (Principal), Alejandra Ruelas, Mary Salazar, and Anaya Arnold are on stage posing for the ceremonial graduation selfie with the rest of their Hybrid High senior class and families.

Mary Salazar emceed the night’s sometimes bi-lingual program. Holding the No. 2 spot in her class, she had the honor of serving as salutatorian.

“I was very nervous,” she admitted afterwards. “I kept thinking I was going to mess up or trip. But in the end, everything went well.”

Eyes gleaming, a jubilant Salazar clasped her bouquet of red roses and handsome diploma as family members huddled for photos. The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Salazar was active in many community service organizations throughout high school. She received five college admission offers and $81,978 in total grants and scholarships toward freshman year. The Silver Lake resident has chosen to study psychology at Cal State Northridge, having fallen in love with the program during a campus visit.

As the celebration wound down, Salazar and her family were heading out to feast on pupusas.

For Dinajreeah Morrah, reality hadn’t quite sunk in.

“I still can’t believe it,” the South-Central resident said, laughing. “It feels like I’m going to have to go to high school next year.” One of the Class of 2018’s top ten, she turned down NYU to become a Bruin. “UCLA was just calling my name,” said Morrah, who’ll double major in psychology and linguistic.

Other top-ten students include Jennifer Gonon, also heading to UCLA; Chakaya Smith, who opted for NYU; Wendy Miranda Bolanos and Sonia Miranda Requena, who will attend UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, respectively; and Elizabeth Cruz, who is bound for USC.

Together with Jonathan Richards and Addison Arnold, Cruz brings USC’s total Hybrid High alumni population to 14. (These three new Trojans join seven rising sophomores and four rising juniors from previous years.) Cruz will major in biological sciences, and Richards will study business administration.

According to director of college counseling Takirah Crenshaw, two- thirds of the Class of 2018 have chosen California public universities, and one-fifth will go to California community colleges. While all 118 Hybrid High grads were admitted to four-year colleges this year, 25 have opted to begin their undergraduate studies at a two-year institution. Fifteen others will go to private universities, including Vassar, NYU, Loyola Marymount, Tuskegee College and, of course, USC.

“It gets better and better every year—and not just academically,” Sicat said, in an interview after the ceremony. “I see deeper relationships between our students and staff. I see a deeper purpose and passion for making this world a better place. But the best part is seeing the kids tear up when they give their advisors a hug.”


Ednovate is a charter management organization partnering with the University of Southern California (USC) since 2012. Ednvoate operates 5 high schools in the Southern California area and USC Rossier is conducting research with the college bound alumni. 

A previous version of this article appeared on June 19, 2018. 

The First Week of College, A Post from an Ednovate Alum

The First Week of College, A Post from an Ednovate Alum

*Only 3 months ago, one of our Alumni graduated from USC Hybrid High and now she has already begun her freshman year at Cornell University. Below is a blog post written by her sharing about her first week of school, all of the emotions around it, and the hard work and preparation that it takes to get there. Staff, thank you for your hard work that allows our students to have life-changing experiences like this. For our Ednovate staff who are awaiting the day of your first graduating class, you have so much to look forward to!


August 18, 2017. When I was driving up on Friday morning, I couldn’t believe that my summer had already come to an end; summer had literally flown by. For me, move-in day began at 6am with my mom, two younger sisters, and a family friend who we had to pay to drive us. It would be a four hour drive up to Ithaca, New York: the trip that marked the first time my mom and sisters would see my new home.

Around 10am, we came across the campus of Cornell University. Yes, it might have felt like we were in the middle of nowhere for the last hour, but a combination of new and old buildings approached our sight. As I became familiar with some buildings, I looked at my mom and told her, “Esta es la escuela que escogi: Cornell.” She would finally get a chance to see the campus where I felt that I belonged when I visited alone back in April 2017. My mom would finally get a chance to see the campus that I, her eldest daughter, committed to.

Just passing by the building, I thought back to the moment I knew I had to come to Cornell. It was a choice that many would consider crazy, but I had to take the chance to explore something new. As an immigrant, I would not let any idea or person prohibit me from taking a chance -- my best chance to become independent and learn in a completely new environment. Move-in day was just one of those steps I took. Mews Hall was now home. 


To be totally honest, we passed my hall twice. Before turning into the hall, I got a warm welcoming from a joyful alumni, “Congrats, and welcome to Cornell, your new home!” I felt the power of every word he said and thought again, ‘This is why I said yes.’ My mom had received her positive affirmation that any parent longed for, and we were all excited for the next phase of my life. We parked, unloaded, and I checked in and got my keys. We got my things and started to head to my room. However, two things happened before we finally made it: one, we were on the wrong floor, and two, we were on the wrong side. When we finally found the dorm, we started to make my room come to life. Later, I went to pick up my ID, where I would come across various booths and information, and apply for work study. As we drove back up to my dorm, I had decided that it was time for our goodbyes. We were missing one person in our family: my dad. This transition had been difficult already without my dad, but saying, “See you soon” was also difficult. There were tears and the “I love you.” Before I knew it, they were off. 


With the strength I built up, I went to my dorm. My suitemates were barely moving in, and I introduced myself. Around 3, I took my first Cornell test: a swim test, which I passed! From the ice cream social, my first RA meeting, orientation leader meeting, and first-year first night, I was able to meet a lot of people. The next three days would involve required events like the Student Convocation bright and early at 8:45am, Identity and Belonging Project, and College of Arts and Science meetings. The day right before classes started, I met with my peer, academic, and faculty advisor. The resources and people were out there, and it was up to me to get the support and check in.

August 21. First day of instruction. I have 3 classes back to back, and I managed to have my classes start at 11:40am. I have already started taking classes to meet the requirements of my Spanish major, and I have already attended classes in Anthropology and Sociology to decide my second major. I currently have to drop one class since I am at 19 credits, but I don’t want to drop any because I really love the classes. I also have homework and a handful of readings to get ahead in. I have a great group of friends who I have had the pleasure of enjoying lunch and the nice weather with while the chime bell played Harry Potter: Hedwig’s Theme. I have enjoyed our great dining areas and arrived soaked one night from the drastic change of weather where it began to pour rain. The trip to the Gorges and the famous dairy bar have also been unforgettable. I have started to make connections with some amazing people, and I know this is just the beginning of my next four years. Soon it will be 7 more semesters left. However, before I know it, I will be back home for winter break, probably not missing the cold Ithaca weather, which I have yet to experience. 


On the Road to College

On the Road to College

USC East team members Jen Simms and Tony Hernandez led the charge to take East's entire student body to college campuses across Los Angeles, helping them get them ready--and excited--for the next step in their education.

Our team knows that to get to college, along with our students excelling in school, they've got to want it!

Last Monday, the entire USC East College Prep student body visited one of three colleges, fueling students' excitement about someday being a college student at a campus like UCLA, Cal State Dominguez Hills or Cal State San Bernardino. The visits were led by East team members Jen Simms and Tony Hernandez.

After the visits, Tony shared that his 9th grade boys were impressed by CSUSB's efforts to promote self care through clubs, different school activities, and offering supports beyond academics.

Jen talked about a full-circle moment when USC Hybrid High alum, Malik Phillips, saw our USC East students at CSU Dominguez Hills and came over to talk with our kids, telling them about how prepared he has felt as a college freshman after graduating from an Ednovate school!

It was day that took our students farther down the road to a great future, with an Ednovate school working as a team to create opportunities for our students. Thank you Jen, Tony and the entire USC East team for leading a day of making college real!

Well done, Sarah

Sarah Grams Director of Talent Recruitment and Development

100% College Acceptance x2

100% College Acceptance x2

“You have been accepted…”


Those four life-changing words have been showing up in the inboxes and mailboxes of high school seniors all across the city over the past several weeks. It’s both the payoff of the past four years of hard work in school and the ticket to a bright future.


Everyone here in the Ednovate community plays a big part in the big day of celebration when one of our students is accepted into college. And I’m so pleased to share the news with you that last week we reached our goal of having 100% of our high school seniors accepted into a four-year college. I’m extremely grateful for the long hours and hard work that you’ve devoted to making a difference in the lives of our students. Thank you.

Personalized Learning:

Personalized Learning:

Personalized Learning: 4 things that are sticking as we start Year 3

Three years in, and I continue to be a believer in the power of personalizing the learning experience. After 10+ years working in traditional environments, I would never go back. However, not all things are sticking; in fact, some things aren’t, but that is for another blog post.

Here are the things we are doubling down on going into Year 3 of this work:

Mastery-Based Grading- This is fundamental to our vision of creating a more personalized learning experience. Mastery based grading simply means to us that students must know, at the start of every quarter, what is expected of them to master and what they need to accomplish to get their desired grade. Then, we get out of the way and let students approach their learning with each other, with a teacher or with the help of their Chromebook. This allows for both our teachers and our students to customize the learning experience every moment of every day.

Dynamic Tech Infrastructure- We assembled a cocktail of Illuminate, Canvas, Hapara and 1:1 Chromebooks that continue to allow us to run a dynamic and elegant system that is lightly managed. Teachers can easily interchange 140+ apps daily to the infrastructure. Talk to our Director of Technology about how he built it. It is beautifully simple.

PMC Performance Tasks - The efficiency of Mastery-Based Grading has opened up more time to do things that are more real and relevant to our students. Our Positive Multigenerational Change (PMC) performance tasks connect our students to a deeper purpose for their learning. This year we are doubling down on learning experience that are more student-driven, more creative and more connected to the real world.

The baby that didn’t go out with the bathwater - Call me old school, but we still couldn’t do any of this without the foundation of hiring great people, establishing a culture of high expectations, making every minute count and using pre/post and interim assessments aligned to the ACT. Having these foundations in place allows for us to think at higher levels of learning each day.

Ednovate is building on the successes and learnings of USC Hybrid High with the launch of USC East College Prep on Monday. With two schools challenged to create a more personalized college prep experience, we know we are going to learn a lot more, faster. That has already been the case three days in to the new school year. We plan to blog more frequently this year to continue to share our learnings as we grow.

Please share with us what is sticking with your schools as we all move towards a more personalized path. We don’t have all of the answers, but we do love having the conversation with others in our learning community.

Have a great year everyone.

Ednovate Wins a Digital Innovation in Learning Award

Ednovate Wins a Digital Innovation in Learning Award

Ednovate Wins a Digital Innovation in Learning Award


We are honored to have won a Digital Innovation in Learning Award from EdSurge andDigital Promise for our Open Door Policy.

Ednovate is committed to making a positive multigenerational change not only in the lives of our students, families, communities, and the world, but also in our profession. We were founded by USC with the intention of not only learning what works and what doesn’t in personalized learning but also sharing that information widely to impact the work of teachers and administrators in LA, across the United States, and beyond. 

To that end, we have given full access to our school to hundreds of visitors representing district, charter, and independent schools, school districts, community organizations, and nonprofits from across the United States and at least 10 countries in the last year alone. In order to help us all improve, we have shared our successes, and more importantly, our failures through well-read blog posts. Ednovate has shared our findings at more than 20 conferences and three TED talks and has served as a thought partner to some of the space’s leading practitioners in blended learning. One hundred percent of our network support team and school administration has traveled to schools within California and out of state to continue to learn and challenge our thinking in regards to space, time and the role of teachers, students and technology.
Just as our students learn more quickly when they receive frequent, actionable feedback, we believe that as a field, student outcomes will improve the more we as educators can share our learnings with one another. While we would certainly never claim to have figured it all out when it comes to personalized learning, we know that in the last year alone, our willingness to share has influenced the thinking of teachers and leaders who impact hundreds of thousands of students every day. 

As active members of the educational technology community, we have heard anecdotally that visiting USC Hybrid High has pushed our friends’ and colleagues’ thinking around what is possible in a personalized learning environment. We’ve been thanked by a variety of readers for our openness in sharing our successes and our challenges in our blog posts, and we have had rich, thought-provoking conversations with other organizations doing innovative work locally and nationally. Outcomes improve for all of our students when we engage in this type of dialogue, so we’re pleased to be able to have an Open Door to all those who want to come learn with us.

Megabytes, Maintenance &

Megabytes, Maintenance &

Megabytes, Maintenance & USC Hybrid High Quarter 1 By the Numbers

As USC Hybrid High wraps up its first quarter this year, we want to give you a peek under the hood of our personalized learning model. Check out this infographic for a glimpse into USC HHS by the numbers, and add to the conversation by sharing some stats from your school.

Walking the Walk:

Walking the Walk:

Walking the Walk: Professional Development Personalized

As the leader of various instructional and non-instructional teams for the past eight years, I thought I had things figured out when it came to onboarding PD. People generally had a good time getting to know one another, my PD laid the foundation for healthy, high-functioning teams, and we saw strong results at the end of each year. I was also conscious to ensure that my PD modeled strong instructional practices, doing my best to complete the traditional lesson cycle for each topic and modeling what I expected from teachers.

Ednovate PD mastery tracker

Ednovate PD mastery tracker

Ednovate teachers and staff participating in self-paced, personalized learning

Ednovate teachers and staff participating in self-paced, personalized learning

As we continued to build off of last year’s success at USC Hybrid High and expand our model to more Ednovate schools, there was something bugging me when I walked around our personalized learning classrooms. I became a novice instructional leader again. I used to visit traditional classrooms and feel like an educational expert, able to pinpoint the hundreds of subtle, meaningful instructional moves teachers made, but last year, they weren’t so clear to me. I am now back to being a novice, trying to understand the nuanced moves successful personalized learning teachers make (hint: now they’re more in the background).

So this year I challenged myself to walk the walk and rebuild my annual onboarding. Boy, was it challenging. It was back to losing myself in the design phase and not eating or sleeping for nights on end. At Ednovate, our teachers have a lot of freedom to curate and create a personalized experience using Illuminate, Canvas, Clever, Chromebooks, Google Apps, and a budget to purchase what they need to meet our learning targets. My team and I (thanks, Jess and Reid) took those same tools and set forth in building 4 modules consisting of 31 lessons and 4 final exams that led to our team members earning badges in teamwork, culture, handbooks and our common language over two days. Ednovate staff members were able to learn at their own pace and in their own environment, answering multiple choice and open-ended questions and creating videos and virtual role plays that we all got to view.

Reflecting on the last couple of days, here are our top three lessons from walking the walk in personalized PD:

1. Reversal of personal connection- My time in front of my team over two days reduced by 67%; however, I am surprised by how much more I learned about my team members this year than in years past. From an output standpoint, most staff members completed their modules by Friday night (they have until Monday morning to complete them all). Because our staff members created and input so much information, I have a clearer insight into our team, what makes them tick, and what they understand and can apply; however, they know a lot less about me. I don’t sense a strong personal connection with all of them as I usually do after being in front for most of the PD, but overall, this is the right switch. My teachers know what I value and how I think through these modules.  That’s more important. Also, teachers should know more about their students than the other way around. An added benefit of this approach was that many instructors commented on developing empathy for our students as they experienced the same learning experience for 72 hours.  

2. The most important instructional moves come in the design- After creating our courses, I realized great personalized instructors make their most important moves in the content curation and creation phase. Not only do strong instructors in our space curate and create well, but they also make sure the learning process is smooth. This includes low-level checks like making sure hyperlinks work, as well as high-level design moves to ensure students fail fast and learn in a way that challenges, excites, and motivates them. I redrafted our PD four different times ensuring that there were the appropriate nudges, badges, and motivators. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but at least now I know a little bit better what to look for when observing personalized learning instructors.

3. Discussions are necessary for applications, synthesis and most importantly human connection- To take a page from Brené Brown, we all need some kind of human connection. Even though our modules and lessons had people create and work in teams, there was still a power in bringing everyone together a few times to talk about our collective goals and impact. Additionally, we really pushed our five “Great Discussions” to be truly discussions and not more lectures. I don’t think we have it all right, but the ratio of independent time to whole-group time felt right. Our teams spent about 70% of our time learning on their own and the rest in discussions. This could mean that in our schools, discussions could happen whole class (whatever that may mean) about every 3-4 days.

These are our initial thoughts. I left feeling more invigorated by the promise of personalized learning, and I believe we have the right team at Ednovate and USC Hybrid High to continue to design and iterate on our model.

We will blog from all angles this year (instruction, tech tools, growth, and finance), and we hope that our lessons learned help others as we move forward on this path toward a better learning experience for our students.

Iterating Rapidly:

Iterating Rapidly:

Iterating Rapidly: How a flexible model turned USC Hybrid High into a high-performing school in 30 weeks

With the third quarter of the school year wrapping up here at Ednovate – USC Hybrid High School, we have made great strides down the path of personalizing the learning experience for each of our students. USC Hybrid High School’s instructional model is evolving rapidly as we identify tools, strategies, and structures that better enable us to execute on our vision. In less than a year, we have doubled the percentage of students performing at or above grade level in all subject areas on the NWEA MAP assessment, predicting significant growth on other state and national indicators as well.

That said, the path hasn’t always been clear; the truth is that we have taken many turns and U-turns, learning hard lessons along the way about what works in personalized learning. We’ve gotten excited about ideas that we ended up tossing out just a few days in, and we’ve been skeptical about things that we ultimately fell in love with.

What has helped us to make effective decisions about our iterations has been clarifying our Theory of Change. Using that as our North Star has allowed us the flexibility to enact frequent adjustments to our model, constantly driving us closer to our goal of closing the college completion gap for our students.

Quarter 1: Self-paced within one period

In our Quarter 1 model, we focused on having teachers create self-paced learning within each period. We challenged them to create classes in which students were doing the thinking for 100% of the period. We structurally forced this by having alternating “studio” days and traditional days. During studio lessons, students worked online at their own pace for the whole 75-minute period; on traditional days, students experienced a more traditional lesson cycle.

We also created an infrastructure built around IlluminateHaparaCleverGoogle Apps, and Chromebooks to set the parameters for our digital learning platform. We learned what types of learning worked best synchronously and asynchronously as well as strategies for managing self-paced classes. We structurally increased the student thinking time and reduced teacher talk time.

Quarter 2: Interpreting digital data daily & more student autonomy

In Quarter 2, we focused on continuously collecting mastery scores (real-time student achievement data) and adjusting our live teaching depending on what we saw. On studio days, our teachers were receiving data from students at about 10-minute intervals, and we needed a way to analyze that data quickly and make adjustments. Apps like CurriculetActively LearnThinkCERCA, and NoRedInk helped our teachers obtain actionable data in our self-paced learning environments.

We also realized that in order to live our values of trust and integrity, we needed to give our students more autonomy by transitioning to student ownership of their Chromebooks. This had the added benefit of saving even more classroom time and allowed for increased student responsibility.

Quarter 3: Deep learning through performance tasks & extending self-paced learning over weeks

At the end of the second quarter, we were excited about the positive results we were seeing on our own assessments as well as national assessments; we had growth in all areas. After deeper analysis, we saw that our online learning approach was especially effective for our students who performed in the bottom third of all students. Given that we had the right culture and data systems in place, Quarter 3 was ripe for an introduction to our performance tasks to allow for every one of our students to engage in the content more deeply and to make connections to their own passions and interests.

Reflecting on the structure of alternating days we had established in the first semester, we also decided to blur the lines between traditional and studio time. We gave our instructors the autonomy to use their time and space as they saw fit, as long as each student was getting what they needed when they needed it. The patterns that are emerging in how we use space, time, synchronous and asynchronous learning are very informative in how we will design our permanent space and future schools. Our teachers seemed to gravitate toward Canvas, a user-friendly learning management system that allows them to support our students with their self-paced curriculum and projects.

Quarter 4: Mastery-based grading & inspiring performance tasks

As we move into Quarter 4, building on the successes of the last three quarters, we are excited to move into the world of mastery-based grading. Instead of building curriculum from scratch, our teachers are building off of the best digital content available and supplementing the curriculum with Canvas so our student learning aligns to our learning goals and interim assessments. We are also consistently grading our students’ specific critical thinking skills across all disciplines, aligning to our annual themes.

A lot of interesting challenges lie ahead as we continue to evolve. This quarter, we’d like to see how we can take our staff professional development to the next level by personalizing our weekly PD sessions (if anyone has any suggestions, please reach out!), and we want to look at our daily practices with a critical eye to see where updates are needed: for example, whether we should be asking teachers to post their daily objective on the board when students are now working on different objectives on any given day and whether we are ready for laptops to start traveling home with students. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’re learning a lot every day.

Constant and never ending improvement

At Ednovate – USC Hybrid High, evolution is constant. As technology resources improve, we also improve in our ability to use technology to provide every student with a personalized education. We believe that our commitment to continuous improvement is what has allowed us to make as much progress as we have in only thirty weeks and what will ultimately allow us to see our real goal come true: closing the college completion gap for our students.

Stay tuned for a future blog post about how we created the right conditions to allow for the type of constant evolution described here.

- See more at:

Initial Conclusions of Hybrid High’s First Year

Initial Conclusions of Hybrid High’s First Year

Initial Conclusions of Hybrid High’s First Year

Less than six months ago, I was given an opportunity to take the torch at USC Hybrid High to refine the current model and expand our schools in Los Angeles and across the country.  I started as a founding principal at Chicago’s Noble Street in 2006 and over five years, helped Noble Street expand to 10 campuses and started one as a founding principal, UIC College Prep, which continues to be the #1 non-selective school in Chicago.  

Even with those experiences, I knew that taking over a school and performing a mini-turnaround in three months was going to be a challenge.  During my interview process with our supportive board members for the CEO position, I outlined my plan as conditions for my acceptance.  Six months later, I am more than happy to be back doing aspirational work that influences schools and leaders across the country in a positive way.  

After observing USC Hybrid High for over 60 hours and interviewing all of the staff and students in my first week, my initial conclusions of Hybrid High’s first year were:  

Experienced start-up leadership and strong teachers matter. I know that this isn’t revolutionary, but it is worth stating for anyone who wants to start a blended learning school.  Starting a school is really hard.  Starting a new model and starting a school for the first time is infinitely harder.  How are you supposed to focus on the model if you are creating common cultural and operational systems like attendance, parent-teacher conferences and teacher data conferences for the first time?  We needed leaders who have started successful schools in the past so school culture and operational challenges wouldn’t be more of a challenge than developing a new model for learning.  

Culture still comes first. If there was only one thing we learned in charters v1.0, it is that culture matters.  And I am not talking about culture in the sense that everyone is walking in single file lines.  I am talking about holding students to high expectations for behavior and having rewards and consequences for every positive and negative behavior we expect or don’t tolerate without excuses.  This is even more important if you are building for open learning environments.  How do we plan, model, train and hold students and staff accountable for the culture we want to create?  We needed to prioritize this so learning could happen.  

Self-paced learning needs a floor. Unfortunately, after year 1, we found when left to “work at their own pace,” a majority of our students did not complete two semesters of each of their core courses.  Teachers are still very important in the blended world, and their new roles will become even more reliant on their ability to manage and motivate in our model.  One of our teachers, now a leader in our school, had the best results because he ensured that everyone was at least moving at a “minimum pace” or a floor.  He provided a lot of encouragement and support, tracked each student’s progress, and motivated them to make constant progress.  In turn, students did almost twice as much in his class than in other classes.  Creating a floor, showing you care, and tracking progress got more out of our students than letting them “work at their own pace” alone.  

We need to build an infrastructure for more than one digital solution. Last year, we had all of our students use APEX, a digital curriculum.  In many ways, APEX is a great tool; however, last year we based our whole school around the sole use of APEX.  What we found was that teachers heavily supplemented it to fit the needs of our students and many of our students gamed the program so teachers didn’t find the data useful.  This year we built a tech infrastructure that allows for multiple digital content solutions. We gave our teachers the autonomy and the flexibility in their budgets to select digital products while holding them accountable for their decisions.  And only three months in, our teachers are finding great content and innovative strategies that are leading to strong initial gains faster than any central office could.  

Physical space and furniture needs to match the learning goals. Last year, we bought only tables and couches so students could learn in a social setting.  Unfortunately, this also meant that even in times when a student wanted to work by themselves or when a teacher wanted to administer an exam, our students were seated in a way that promoted socialization.  When you put individual content in front of a young adult and surround them with their friends, socialization wins most of the time.  This year, we are using furniture that allows for flexible learning spaces (both individual and small and large group). We are also working to dampen the sounds in certain work spaces to accommodate for rooms that desire to simultaneously have individual and social working areas.  

In addition to these five major changes we have implemented many others to support USC Hybrid High 2.0, including a new SIS and data integration solution, a switch to Chromebooks from Macbook Airs, a new assessment system aligned to the ACT and Common Core standards, a live dashboard aligned to our strategic plan, and many new school traditions.   While these changes happened quickly, we knew that the change management process also had to be deliberate and prudent.  This included interviewing the full school community, showing the data from year 1 to our board, staff, students and parents to justify our set of changes, and giving our community a vision for where we are headed and the phases we need to pass through to get there.  Fortunately, all of us want to get to the same destination: 100% of our graduates accepted into a 4-year university with 90% of our students persisting after their first year of college.  

After all of this, in only six short months, our school is now a vibrant and positive place for students to work at their own pace with the support and motivation of an entrepreneurial and joyful staff.  Our Quarter 1 benchmarks are in and we are showing signs of growth in all subjects.  We have a long way before we declare our mission accomplished, but having seen many successful start-ups in my past, I am confident in our school’s success.  If you are ever in Los Angeles, please come by for a visit. -