Ex-Googler founded ‘micro-school’ model

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A new, alternative school plans to open upstairs over the Heights Café on Montague Street. Photo data copyright Google Maps, 2014.

A small, alternative private school is aiming to open on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights next September.

The school will be located at 84 Montague St., in the second floor space over the Heights Cafe, and will eventually serve roughly 100 kids from pre-K through eighth grade.

California-based AltSchool, founded by Max Ventilla, who formerly headed Google’s personalization team, describes itself as a “collaborative community of micro-schools.” Because of their small size, the schools are flexible in adapting to the needs of teachers, parents and students.

While nothing is set in stone yet, the idea is to start the pilot program with a “good, balanced class,” AltSchool Head of Operations Anna Cueni told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We’ve been delighted with the demand so far from Brooklyn families.”

The model calls for creating “community-based neighborhood schools, so we anticipate most of the students will be from Brooklyn,” she said. “The goal is to create little, flexible schools that can pop up relatively quickly, depending on where the families live, to make a really convenient neighborhood option.”

In the AltSchool model, different ages are combined in the classrooms. There is a transitional (pre-K/ Kindergarten/1st grade) class, an upper elementary (2nd – 5th grade) class, and a middle school (6th – 8th grade) class.

The children are not grouped strictly by date of birth, however. “We look at the individual child,” Cueni said. Two seven-year-olds may be in different groups, one in the lower elementary and one in the upper elementary.

When a child joins the school, a personalized learning plan is created, based on the child’s interests, strengths and weaknesses. This plan is used to inform a weekly personalized curriculum for each child, which AltSchool calls a “playlist.” Teachers plan the playlists — sort of digital “to-do” lists — weekly.

Student progress is tracked through the use of technology and tools like video documentation. “When a student completes painting a picture or building a model, they will document it with video and upload it. Teachers can see patterns over time,” Cueni said. “The tools help the teachers document a student’s progress without leaving the child.”

Technology also connects parents to the school — they can scroll through the child’s work, let the teacher know if they are running ten minutes late. “There’s no school secretary,” she added.

“We’re creating a school that evolves. We’re constantly soliciting feedback system wide and throughout the school year,” Cueni said. “What we look for is families ready to join us, families who want to come and create, give feedback and bridge the home and school gap.”

AltSchool says the curriculum is informed by the Common Core, National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), Next Generation Science Standards, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), among others.

AltSchool accepts applications year-round and sends admission letters on a rolling basis. However, priority is given to early (online) applications; the priority deadline is January 9, 2015. According to AltSchool’s website, tuition runs from $27,500 to $29,750, and scholarships are available.

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