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Event Recap: Alternative Education & Innovative Schools in NYC

Posted in Ed Tech on February 11, 2014 by

Last Thursday night, Knewton co-hosted an event with Be Social Change and the Centre for Social Innovation. It was the fourth event in an ongoing series on the Future of Education. This time around, the theme was Alternative Education & Innovative Schools in New York. (The Future of Education Part 1 examined new models for 21st century learning, Part 2 explored innovations in K-12, and Part 3 analyzed emerging education technology.)

For The Future of Education Part 4, we invited innovative educators and leaders in the city to speak in front of a packed house about what they envision for the future of education. Panelists agreed there is no one-size-fits-all way to learn. Attendees learned about real challenges and benefits of building schools and alternative programs that look different from the schools many of us are familiar with today.

Meet the Experts

Panelists included:

  • Francis Mechner, PhD, Director of Queens Paideia School, an independent K-12 school that implements widely accepted tenets of educational theory. Through a 6:1 student-teacher ratio, the school provides students with individualized, continuously updated learning plans and focused attention on students’ personal development.

  • Jonathan Hirsch, Director of The LIFE (Learning Interdependently From Experience) School, which is a program for high school juniors and seniors that emphasizes collaboration and community bonds.

  • Seung C. Yu, Principal of the Academy for Software Engineering (AFSE), which is a new high school for the design and development of software applications. At AFSE every student has a personalized pathway. Innovative curriculum and workshops in the school are created by talented educators and leaders in software development.

  • Britt Neuhas, Director of Special Projects for the Innovation Zone (iZone), a dedicated Office of Innovation at the NYC Department of Education that supports over 300 schools in personalizing learning to accelerate college and career readiness.

  • Allyson Crawford, Managing Director, External Affairs of Citizen Schools, which helps public middle schools in low-income communities provide a longer learning day rich with opportunities.

The discussion was moderated by Steven Hodas, Executive Director at Innovate NYC Schools, which helps discover and expand educational technologies that can help move classrooms toward more personalized, student-centered models.

Key Takeaways

At the beginning of the event, attendees were asked what aptitudes, skills, or concepts would be included in their ideal curriculum. Answers included creativity, negotiation skills, interpersonal skills, coding, compassion, global perspectives, foreign language, self-directed learning, and more. Panelists cited similar goals, including providing students with hands-on learning and the chance to build, as well as connecting school work to real-world experiences.

The power of personalizing learning was a common theme. Many speakers noted that in the early stages of building and implementing a new school or program, they had to adjust to the unique community and adapt to student needs. Francis from Queens Paideia School stressed the importance of paying attention to each student’s needs, personality, interests, and preferences. Educators at Queens Paideia School have had success creating individualized learning plans for each student, enabling every person to learn at his or her own pace. Francis described how when every student works at their own ability and pace, no student is failing or falling behind.

Toward the end of the event, audience questions centered around how to introduce various innovative teaching methods or programs more broadly to reach more students. Seung asserted it is important to build a school culture from the ground up and define early on what is most important. Jonathan agreed that zeroing in on a mission, defining core values, and communicating them consistently is key. Allyson noted that it is important to be both brave and honest about what works, and shift your approach when you find something is not working.

To see the full talk, visit and check out the “Latest Videos” section.

See you next time!

Thank you to everyone who turned out — we’re starting to see familiar faces and are thrilled to be part of a community that is as passionate about education as we are.

If you want to be among the first to hear about the next event in our Future of Education series, shoot us a note at