Personalized Learning Podcast: Episode 1 | CityBridge Foundation rethinks education in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to the first episode of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s Personalized Learning podcast series where we explore how different cities across the country are implementing next-generation learning. You can find the introduction to the podcast series here.


Cheryl Niehaus, Program Officer, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation


Margaret Angell, Program Director, CityBridge Foundation, Education Innovation Portfolio

Scott Cartland, Principal of Wheatley Education Campus in Washington D.C.

Ideas explored in this episode

Hear about the work that CityBridge does in D.C. (1:09)

CityBridge focuses exclusively on K12 education in D.C.  As part of this work, they look for the best ideas in education and bring them to bear in the district. They are working to build a system of great schools, both district and charter schools, by replicating high-performing schools.

The planning process is very important- more important than you realize. Invest in as many people as you can in the planning process. Educators are hungry for changes that will help fix what is not working.

“I came away from my district experience hoping and believing there was another way at this… Our core motivation comes from the reality that the way we do school doesn’t work.” – Margaret Angell

“We’ve created the flexibility in our scheduling to allow students free time to work on material we’ve already presented.” – Scott Cartland

What is the impact they want to have in D.C.? (2:53)

By funding 18 schools with the next-generation learning model, they hope to eventually transform over 100 of the highest-poverty and lowest-performing schools into high-performing schools.

“Our goal is to serve all students with what they need, when they need it…. [and to] give educators the tools, resource, and space to design the next generation of schools.” – Margaret Angell

Why are they working to implement personalized learning in D.C.? (5:35)

The way that schools operate now does not work. To illustrate this point, Margaret gives an example of how classrooms need to meet the needs of all students at all different levels of learning.

“We’ve heard students say, ‘school will make you hate school’.” – Margaret Angell

“Once you think about how school needs to change to meet the needs of kids, it’s hard not to move in that direction.” – Scott Cartland

“School is something that happens to students – it’s not an active, engaged learning experience.” – Margaret Angell

What does this implementation look like in practice? (7:20)

They’re not telling students “We’re not going to move forward unless you’re ready to, and by the way, you can’t not be ready sometime, you have to do the work to move on.”

“It sounds so simple, but the message to students and the message from the adults is very different: we’re really saying to them, we’re not moving forward until you’re really ready to.” – Scott Cartland

What makes the work in D.C. unique and different from other cities? (9:13)

The design process in D.C. is much different than in other cities. They run learning sessions and encourage school teams to get together and attend a design institute that allows them to learn and understand school design and get some key questions answered.

Advice Margaret and Scott would give to anyone thinking about doing this work. (12:17)

The planning process is very important- more important than you realize. Invest in as many people as you can in the planning process. Educators are hungry for changes that will help fix what is not working.

“When you want to pivot, it’s hard to invest people in change. My advice to principals is to invest their staff in the planning process. Having the time and space to think about how we can do schools differently is really invaluable.” – Scott Cartland

“Educators are hungry for change, and they embrace it…. [but they] need time, space, and a good process.” – Margaret Angell

Let’s Chat

What’s your reaction to the work being done in Washington, D.C.? Are you working on a similar project, or hope to in the future? Tell us your thoughts below.

Read more about our work with the Next Generation Learning Challenge:

Kristi DePaul: Personalized learning- One size does NOT fit all

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