65 Elementary & Middle Schools Worth Visiting

Blog Series, Learning, PreK-12, Smart Lists, Smart Schools

School visits are a great way to learn and are key to developing an innovation mindset. Based on a couple thousand school visits and with help from colleagues and readers, we’ve compiled a list of 65 Elementary schools worth visiting. The list includes schools that achieve extraordinary results for underserved communities, create powerful learning experiences, and/or are innovative blended and competency-based models.

Elementary Schools

1. Rocketship Education (profiled here) has nine Bay Area high-poverty high-performing blended elementary schools–take your pick. If you have to pick one, try Rocketship Spark Academy in San Jose, a beautiful building opened in 2013 and authorized by Franklin-McKinley School District. Rocketship uses a flex learning lab model to extend the day and the reach of great teachers. Content includes DreamBox, ST Math, i-Ready, and Rosetta Stone (See Preston Smith on Investing in the Art of Teaching). If ever in Johannesburg South Africa, visit SPARK Schools, based on the Rocketship model (featured here).

2. KIPP Empower in LA (profiled here) was the first blended school in the KIPP network. The station rotation model runs on a Education Elements and Agilix platform and features DreamBox, iStation and Compass Learning. All 5 elementary schools in this region have implemented similar models with success. For example, KIPP Comienza Community Prep scored an API of 978, making it the third highest performing school in LAUSD and was also the #1 performing school serving at/above 60% ELL in the California.

3. KIPP Ascend Primary in Chicago, has a station rotation model during math and literacy blocks. They use Lexia Core5, Reading Assistant, ST Math, Think Through Math and Khan Academy. KIPP Austin Obras features dual language school that uses station rotation model in both Spanish and English (ST Math and Istation). (See Hechinger feature.)

4. Ingenuity Prep, in Washington, D.C, is a NGLC winner that serves PreK3-2nd grade students. They plan to grow to PreK3-3rd next year with a four-tiered staffing approach (from resident to master teacher) and small-group blended learning instruction.

5. Bricolage Academy in NOLA (@BricolageNOLA) is new diverse active learning elementary (k-4 growing to K-8) school founded by Josh Densen. A recent Mini Maker Faire builds on an innovation culture.


6. Success Academy is redefining success in public education with 28 elementary, three middle, and one high schools in NYC. Visit to learn about sophisticated teacher development, inspiring science instruction, and a powerful culture. CEO Eva Moskowitz explains, “We have a culture of daily mastery–we believe children should intellectually struggle with challenging content and the teachers should insist on mastery.”

7. Achievement First operates 30 schools in Brooklyn, Providence, and Connecticut. The flagship Amistad Academy, “opened in New Haven in 1999 to prove that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their affluent suburban counterparts.” A K-3 school (growing to K-4), AF Providence Mayoral Academy, is worth a visiting to see “joyful, student-centered, rigorous instruction.”

8. Bracken STEAM Academy is an award winning magnet K-5 school in north Las Vegas (profiled here). Grade level teams coordinate a long list of digital resources.

9. Gilroy Prep is a high performing elementary school (K-8 in 2018) and the anchor of Navigator Schools. You’ll see a combination of direct instruction and a lab rotation model featuring ST Math.

10. Cleveland Elementary School (featured here) was the lowest performing elementary school in Santa Barbara until they launched a blended math program powered by DreamBox Learning. The adaptive math program is used in a station rotation model.

11. Cornerstone Madison-Carver Academy is a K-6 school in Detroit (featured here). Cornerstone features a lab rotation in primary grades and a class rotation in intermediate grades–and a strong culture and well developed character development program K-12.  

12. All students at Wade King Elementary School, Bellingham Washington, are learning Chinese. Students are able to work at their own pace, and benefit from individualized instruction, access from home, and coaching from a native speaker. King Elementary was featured in recent paper, The Next Generation of World Language Learning.

13. Colvin Run Elementary School, Fairfax County Virginia expanded their existing Spanish curriculum in blended classrooms. After 13 weeks, 90% for the students improved oral proficiency by at least one level. They also use Rosetta Stone to create an independent study program for languages like Chinese (featured here).

14. KM Explore is one of three very interesting district sponsored charter schools west of Milwaukee. The open plan multiage blend features high engagement projects. They also figured out what to do with those old textbooks.

15. Hartland School of Community Learning (profiled here), also west of Milwaukee, is a grade 3-5 multiage charter school use trimester targets to set weekly and monthly academic goals for themselves to guide their learning. Each day students stop, drop, reflect for the last 40 minutes of the day.

16. St. Louis Language Immersion Schools (@SLLIS) include a French, Spanish and Chinese immersion elementary schools, and plan to open an IB secondary school next year. We agree: every student should be globally competent, world language fluent.

17. Visitors to Aspire Titan Academy in LA saw 100% student engagement during a recent tour. Hanley is one of two schools opened in Memphis this year by Aspire Public Schools (profiled here and here). Their proven “College for Certain model” offer a “rich STEM-focused education, individualized technology rich learning opportunities, and explicit instruction in computer coding skills.” The rotation model features i-Ready and DreamBox Learning. For the full story read Liz Arney’s new book, Go Blended.

18. Cornerstone Academy Preparatory School, San Jose, was a traditional high performing elementary school founded in the Building Excellent Schools network that was recently transformed to blended learning and is getting exceptional results with a low income, ELL population.

19. Quitman Elementary School in Newark is making good strides in a tough place by starting with great expectations. Blended partners include Education Elements, Core Knowledge and Expeditionary Learning, GoMath, FastMath, Reading Eggs, Study Island and BrainPOP.

20. Randle Highlands in Washington DC worked with Education Elements to deploy blended learning featuring ST Math, Lexia, MyON, and i-Ready. Each school day has 90 minutes of blended math instruction and 120 minutes of blended ELA instruction. (See summary of the DC approach and an AEI paper that details blended learning in DC featuring Kramer Middle School and Ketcham Elementary School.)

21. Uinta County School District in Evanston, Wyoming has four elementary schools that use rotation and flexible learning models to empower their K-5 students to own their learning. They use a variety of software tools including Google Apps, NewsELA and NoRedInk.

22. Lake Forest Elementary School, Fulton County (Atlanta) is a high poverty, high mobility, high ELL school. It’s a great example of blended learning, student access, student-centered instruction, personalized professional development, and a great school culture.

23. Roots Elementary (@RootsElementary), Denver, is a new primary school features a quickly paced iPad-powered rotation model in a big multiage space (featured here). Students build conceptual understanding with ST Math and manipulatives and benefit from small reading groups.

24. Rocky Mountain Prep (@RockyMtnPrep) is a growing network of elementary public charter schools in Denver. The RMP Creekside campus serves P-4 students uses ST Math and Raz-Kids for leveled e-reading in a class rotation model (featured here).

25. Barack Obama Charter School in Compton is part of the Ingenium network and uses the personalized, standards-based model first developed in Chugach, Alaska (see seven part series). Teachers serve as coaches in the system where proficiencies as assessed, verified, and documented. Students spend 120 minutes per week using software such as DreamBox, Study Island, and Reading Eggs, which has been helpful for practicing skills and getting rapid feedback (featured on CompetencyWorks).

26. Hawk Ridge Elementary in Charlotte was transformed thru the development of a shared vision of personalized learning, a culture of trust, and a lot of professional learning. Key features of the school model include Genius hour, personalized pathways, team teaching, and opportunity culture staffing (profiled here).

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K-8 Schools

27. Aspire ERES Academy in Oakland (profiled here) uses ST Math, i-Ready, Achieve 3000, Accelerated Reader, Think Through Math in a station rotation model. With 36 California schools, Aspire is one of the nation’s highest performing low-income school systems.

28. Da Vinci Innovation Academy is a project-based NGLC winning school in Hawthorne, California (profiled here). Students usually spend two days per week on campus and have another optional day on campus for electives.

29. After co-founding Da Vinci, Nicole Assisi headed south and opened Thrive, another NGLC winning K-8 school that combines project-based learning, blended learning, and social emotional learning.

30. Burley School is a Chicago literature, writing and technology magnet school. Visitors see students discussing, reading, thinking, exploring, questioning, experimenting, creating, and collaborating.  Students have access to iPads and laptops and a full art and music program.

31. Acton Academy is a small student-centered private school in Austin. It is so impact-oriented it claims, “Each person who enters our doors will find a calling that will change the world.” (See feature)

32. AltSchool is a San Francisco-based network of innovative private micro-schools–about two dozen K-8 students with two teachers–founded by former Google engineer Max Ventilla. Tuition is around $20,000 but about 40% of students receive financial aid. A Learning Portrait guides weekly goal setting (featured by NPR here).

33. Caliber Beta opened last year in Richmond, California with a personalized learning plans, a flexible rotation model for math and English, and project-based learning for science and social studies. Students participate in computer programming, engineering, and robotics classes.

34. National Teachers Academy in Chicago, managed by AUSL, is a high poverty school that serves as a training academy. (See EdWeek feature on the first chromebook classroom in Chicago Public Schools.)

35. Washington K-8 school in Lindsay Unified (outside of Fresno) is doing great things with blending and competency. They use multiple resources to assist students in pursuing personal learning plans and students transition as they demonstrate competency at the course level–a great example of developing and engaging student agency and social emotional learning. (Watch district video.)

36. Magnolia Montessori for All is a champion of both blended learning and the potential of a school dedicated to true college and career readiness for all its students. The school opened its doors as a public charter in the fall of 2014 with grades pre-K through 3. It will reach full capacity in 2019 with students through grade 8. It is a unique blend of Montessori practice and the high expectations of the no excuses charter model.

37. Environmental Charter School at Frick Park in Pittsburg uses their theme to building systems thinkers, explore complexity, and develop problem solving skills.


38. Bella Romero Academy is a K-8 school on two campuses in Greeley Colorado. The 6-8 classrooms launched a personalized learning model in their across all subject areas with support from their platform partner Education Elements. The instructional model looks different in each grade level as the teachers gradually release more responsibility to students each year.

39. Arthur Ashe Charter School in New Orleans (profiled here), is operated by FirstLine Schools. The lab rotation model incorporates Achieve 3000, Accelerated Reader, Think Through Math and ST Math.

40. Dolores T Aarons Academy is a P-8 school operated by ReNEW Schools, turnaround specialists in New Orleans. Intermediate blends use ST Math and performance groups in reading. Middle grades feature 1:1 Chromebooks and big integrated blogs. DTA has improved from F to C and is shooting for an A rating.  


41. Urban Montessori Charter School in Oakland, an NGLC in Oakland grantee, combines Montessori’s pedagogy with Design Thinking, and Arts Integration.

Middle Schools

42. KIPP Ascend Charter School and KIPP Create College Prep in Chicago features a large and flexible lab rotation giving teachers the flexibility of either being in the lab, working with small groups in their classrooms, or something else entirely.

43. KIPP Washington Heights Middle School in NYC is also worth a visit. In addition to ST Math and Khan Academy, they use Newsela and Read180/System44 in a combination of lab rotation and station rotation models at different points in the day. (See lessons from KIPP Math Blends.)

44. KIPP Central City Academy is one of 10 KIPP schools in New Orleans. The 5-8 school opened in 2007. A great Chromebook learning lab features St Math in 5-6, ThinkThroughMath and iXL in 7-8. Achieve3000 and Quizlet help build vocab in support of writing across the curriculum. In the spirit of the city, KCCA features a great marching band.

45. Bate Middle School, Danville, Kentucky, (profiled here) is a turnaround story. The staff developed innovation plan focused on challenge-based learning, performance-based assessments and positive habits of mind. Check out this great trip report from former superintendent Carmen Coleman.

46. Incubator School is a NGLC winning LAUSD flex middle school (profiled here) using Think Through Math, Mangahigh, TenMarks, Newsela, NoRedInk, StudySync, and Read180The day includes roughly a third online, a third in projects, and a third in advisory.

47. Messalonskee Middle School in Maine, students have Learning Goal Time every day, with a full two hours once a week to work on assignments and get the extra help they need. Chris Sturgis has featured the school on CompetencyWorks and in this brief.

48. Blanca Alvarado Middle School, Alpha Public Schools (profiled here), in San Jose. Alpha uses Compass Learning, Achieve 3000, and ST Math content on the Education Elements platform with MAPS and MasteryConnect assessments. Students spend about 50% of their time in the station rotation model online.

49. James Madison Middle School in Oakland (profiled here) is one of the blended learning pilot projects supported by the Rogers Family Foundation and Education Elements. Madison teachers use a two-group in-class rotation model. Math content includes DreamBox, Mangahigh, and Khan Academy.

50. Quest to Learn is a NYC game-based charter middle school (profiled here) created with the Institute of Play. Game-based content includes, Minecraft, Gamestar Mechanic, Atmosphir, and Mangahigh.

51. Ranson IB middle school (@RansonIBMS) is part of Charlotte Mecklenburg‘s Project LIFT to create an Opportunity Culture and extend the reach of the best teachers. A great blog from Romain Bertrand (@htdcompletely) outlines five lessons from their efforts to personalize math instruction and notes that “Compass Learning Odyssey or Dreambox Learning help you better know what each of your students really need.”

52. Ewing Marion Kauffman School is an interesting Kansas City college prep middle school mashup of the no-excuses Uncommon model with a dose of Expeditionary Learning.

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53. Spurgeon Intermediate School in Santa Ana integrates project-based learning with lab rotation in a newly rebuilt flexible learning space (see pictures and video on Facebook). They use ST Math, Read 180, and other resources. Gooru holds all of their Common Core units of study.

54. Advanced Learning Academy is a new Santa Ana lab school. It’s “high-tech, project-based, and STEM” focused. The blended and competency-based school opened with grades 4-6 and will grow a grade a year to grade 12 (featured here).

55. Whittemore Park Middle School was designated in need for improvement and launched a turnaround process in 2013. Working with Education Elements, Whittemore won an NGLC grant. The Horry County School (near Myrtle Beach) is a great example of community collaboration and district led digital conversion. (Check out their Personalized Digital Learning Initiative, a feature on the district’s Whole Village strategy, and a recap of blended learning decisions.)

56. Achievement First Bushwick Middle School in Brooklyn is blending 90 minutes of math instruction and more than two hours of reading instruction every day. The talented principal is a former math teacher, has an MBA and was an BCG education consultant.

57. Piedmont Middle School, a rural school between Atlanta and Birmingham, an NGLC and Verizon Innovative School winner that has completely restructured their day. The model has three main goals: advanced mastery, relevance, and student ownership (read the NGLC profile).

58. Camp Creek Middle School, Fulton County (Atlanta) is a high poverty, high mobility school Implemented the NewClassrooms Teach-to-One Math model for a group of almost 800 middle school students. Math has become personalized and students progress at their own pace while engaging in various instructional modalities.

59. The K-12 schools on main campus of High Tech High are all great project-based STEM-focused schools but don’t miss HTH middle schools in North San Diego County and Chula Vista (featured here and here and in Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day).

60. KIPP Prize is a new school in San Jose using strong online learning and blended combined with the  personalized Readers and Writers Workshop model.

61. Grant-Beacon Middle School is a transformed middle school in Denver featuring blended learning, character development, and extended learning opportunities (featured here). They’ll be taking on a second turnaround project next year.

62. Houston A+ UP is an innovative flex blend middle school with six museum partnerships (featured here). Launched as private microschool pilot, the school expanded as a three campus charter school this fall.


Elementary + Middle Pairs

63. The 130 school New Tech Network (NTN) includes a growing number of project-based STEM-focused middle and elementary schools. The Evergreen School District in San Jose, California is home to Bulldog Tech, a NTN demonstration site, and Katherine Smith Elementary.

64. Humes Preparatory Academy-Elementary & MIddle Schools in Memphis are operated by Gestalt Community Schools (profiled here). Students spend 7.5 hours of their 9 hour day in a blended rotation environment using Mac laptops and ST Math, Achieve 3000, Compass Learning, Wowzers, and Study Island.

65. AF Greenfield Schools includes Elm City College Prep Elementary where the third graders topped the wealthiest Connecticut cities in math. The school is piloting Zearn (John Danner’s new app) in math. Elm City College Prep Middle currently serves grades 5-6. The redesigned school focuses on student ownership and personalization. Accelerated expectations are supported by a powerful community–the product of 18 months of research and development in school design and technology-enhanced learning.

Next up: high schools and school districts worth visiting.

For more check out:

DreamBox Learning, Curriculum Associates, MIND Research Institute, Connections Education are Advocacy Partners of Getting Smart. NoRedInk, and MasteryConnect, are a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner.


Carla /

I wonder how lengthy these school visits were. I spent 2 years working at the number one school on this list and I would never recommend it to anyone. I think that before schools are praised for what they are doing correctly, they need to take a look at the entire school, are the parents happy? Do the staff members stay at this school for long periods of time? Yes, the students are motivated and hardworking, which in turn, makes them successful, however, schools should be ranked on more than test scores and lesson plans. We must remember to look at the big, long term picture, for students, parents, and staff members.

Tom Vander Ark /

Hi Carla, I’ve visited Rocketship schools 4-5 times, most recently Rocketship Spark in December
(here’s my trip report: http://gettingsmart.com/2015/12/bay-blends-advance-personalized-learning/ )
You obviously have more history with the network but I did visit with 6-7 staff and 6-7 parents on my last visit (as well as visiting about 20 classrooms) and thought I got a pretty good sense of the place. Agree we need to look at the long term, big picture–that’s one of the reasons I like Rocketship.

واردات تجهیزات /

Very good…thanks

Tom Vander Ark /

A couple NCLC recommendations in DC:
-Truesdell (DCPS traditional K-8) is participating in Summit’s Basecamp and pushing on Summit for how the PLP might work with an ELL population. Great team.
-Horace Mann Elementary, up near the Cathedral in NW DC. Sixty languages spoken there, lots of embassy kids but also 30-40% poverty or more. Top rankings on all the indicators. Amazing redesign and expansion effort produced thoughtful and learning-model-driven school space. This year they opened up the green roof with farm that produces food the kids grow and cook as part of the school’s nutrition program.

Tom Vander Ark /

Quality Hill, a new downtown K-8 in KC MO (opening in August) sounds like a school that will be on this list in the future. Listen to Linda Buchner’s podcast interview with the principal: http://driven2educate.com/lindsay-yates/

Tom Vander Ark /

Met the team from Encinitas Union School District last week, sounds like a great addition to this list

Tom Vander Ark /

Nick Zaveri nominated St. Ann School in Manhattan, one of three schools through the Archdiocese of NY that was part of a BL pilot program this year. He adds: “The teachers have embraced a three center rotational model. The principal has been on board and has been a huge help in driving the instructional shift. The school has many visitors from neighboring schools as they are quickly emerging as a leader in Blended Learning in that school district.”

Megan /

Mukilteo Elementary School is a great example of how giving students a voice has powerful impact. From the school culture and the commitment to family engagement to their unique outdoor learning space, this is definitely a school to see for yourself.