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Success in the 21st century will demand more of young people—academically, socially, and professionally—than traditional models for secondary schools can prepare them to deliver. In this new context, young people need opportunities to develop creativity, self-direction, and critical thinking and collaboration skills, and schools need to be reimagined as adolescent learning ecosystems where students can be active agents in their own development. This school design guide outlines a student-centered approach to designing innovative, new school models.

After nearly four years of partnering with districts, networks, and charter management organizations around the country to design and launch new high schools, we want to share what we have learned. We hope this publication inspires educators to craft innovative ideas, explore student-centered approaches, and realize strong systems that can give students the school experiences they deserve.

Download the Guide

The School Design Process

The school design process we share here is organized into three broad phases:

  • Understand. Great school design should be grounded in a deep, foundational understanding of the students and families new models serve. Designers also need to identify the opportunities and constraints presented by their unique local context, and the resources their schools will need.
  • Design. To develop innovative new school models, teams need to design the key elements unique to their school models; define the priorities that matter most to their students and families; and outline the experiences that the young people and adults will have as members of the school community.
  • Build. Bringing a new school concept to life requires careful planning for launch and iteration, including a clear articulation of the model’s implementation requirements; a detailed work plan leading to and through launch; and a collected portfolio of essential design artifacts to guide practice in the new school.

We hope this guide is a helpful contribution to our colleagues and friends engaged in the inspiring, essential work of new school design.

Please read, share, and send us any feedback or thoughts you have!