The EdVisions Story
Our mission is to support new school development and the transformation of existing schools that wish to create more personalized, engaging learning through meaningful and relevant, student-centered project based learning and teacher empowerment. Our vision is to transform learning through innovation in order to create inspired learners! We achieve our vision by inspiring educators to create transformational learning experiences that empower students. The EdVisions products and services are designed to support the creation or transformation of schools and classrooms to become highly personalized learning communities.
EdVisions has a sixteen-year history of providing support to innovative schools, both new and already operating. We were initially established as a part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Small High Schools initiative and later a member of the Alternative High Schools Initiative and the Hewlett Foundation's Deeper Learning Network. Our work originally grew out of the well-established and successful Minnesota New Country School in Henderson, Minnesota, one of the first and most innovative project-based learning high school models in the world. Avalon in St.Paul, Minnesota is another successful public charter school that utilizes the EdVisions’ model of self-directed learning and teacher leadership. In addition, EdVisions has a network of well-established innovative schools from which to draw expertise and experience as it continues to spread the model.
EdVisions has a well-rounded program of support for new school startups and for schools wishing to learn the skills and nuances of a radically different approach to teaching, learning and leading. EdVisions Schools has worked with over 200 new schools nationally and internationally, shared and presented the model at over 125 conferences and events and educated over 1,000 new teachers and administrators. Our story of successful schools, including the Minnesota New Country School, and startup methods has been reported in nearly every major educational publication in the U.S. In addition, five books have been published describing the New Country/EdVisions story, philosophy, learning program and results.
We help school planners and personnel navigate through the Ed°Essentials, the critical elements to transition to a new and different way to educate young people today. We collaborate staff in assisting with the school startup or transformation process, adapted to each state's requirements. We provide professional development services both in person and online as well as coaching for onsite consulting and technical assistance. With assistance from university researchers we also developed the Hope Survey, a measurement of hope, engagement and dispositional growth in young people correlated to academic success. We provide the online survey tool and the analysis service for a fee in order to allow schools another opportunity for value added program results.
How it All Started
Twenty-five years ago about a dozen people got together from the Minnesota River Valley of South Central Minnesota and started to plan a new type of education. Many of the planners were educators, some were parents and some were interested community members. The group researched a number of educational philosophies and decided after much discussion that John Dewey’s 1900 pragmatist theory of “learning by doing” was what they wanted to use to create a new type of learning. They searched to find essential design elements compatible to that of Dewey’s and found the Coalition of Essential Schools Common Principles which at the time consisted of nine of the current ten principles. They also focused on a number of lessons learned from innovative schools that opened in the 1960’s and 1970’s. With a year of research and planning in place, Minnesota New Country School was created in 1994 with a focus on student interest and performance assessments reflecting high standards and use of the latest technology.
As former educators in traditional programs, they looked at the things in traditional systems that prevented students from being productive. They decided to get rid of the rigid scheduling system and allow flexibility in the day. They chose to have students plan projects and work the state mandated curriculum into the projects (backwards planning) rather than have the state curriculum define what, and when, a student would learn specific items (forward planning). They also felt it was essential to have learning reflect work and life. Very few people go to work in the morning and plan to do the mathematics portion of their job for the first hour, the communications part the second hour, the history part the third hour and the art portion the final hour. Rather everything is woven together, used together, and interdisciplinary. Personalized learning became a key to their plans. They knew that just because a student was a certain age did not mean that they were always ready or willing to learn a new concept. They would have learning move at a pace that met the student’s ability. They decided technology should be as easily available as it would be in an office or work setting. All students should have easy and ready access to technology as needed. They also designed personal workstations for students to give them ownership in the school setting.
In 2000, representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation visited the New Country School and decided they would like to see the school replicated. Some of the original founders wrote a grant and received $4.3 million dollars from the Gates Foundation to start 15 schools that closely resembled MNCS in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 2001, EdVisions was awarded a Federal Charter Schools Technical Assistance grant, which allowed the organization to host three annual Midwest Charter Starter institutes to identify and assist quality startup groups in a five-state area, including Minnesota and Wisconsin. In 2003, EdVisions was awarded a second Gates grant for $4.5 million to take the replication effort nationwide, create a teacher/leader’s center to help develop leaders for these new schools, and create a plan to assist/coach these new schools during their first 3 years. Twenty more schools were to be assisted over the next five years. In total EdVisions Schools has now helped create over 40 schools in thirteen states and provided technical assistance to over 100 schools. Through its affiliation with the Gates Alternative High Schools Initiative and the Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Network, EdVisions has become a respected network of innovative and successful new schools.
When MNCS was being designed, Ted Kolderie from the Center for Policy Studies and Education Evolving in St. Paul, MN suggested that they create a different type of management system at the new school. He suggested that if teachers became owners (similar to business owners) rather than employees, they would act differently, be more accountable. He was right. By giving the staff at the school the ability to make nearly all of the decisions at the school, from financial to curriculum, they have a greater sense of pride and ownership. EdVisions Cooperative was formed to function as the teacher ownership group. They created staff development opportunities and helped other schools create better collaboration between staff. EdVisions Cooperative has grown to over a dozen other schools and over 300 individual members. To learn more about the EdVisions Cooperative, visit: edvisionscooperative.org/