Getting Smart Blog – Smart List: 100 Middle & High Schools Worth Visiting

School visits are a great way to learn. After a lot of visits of our own and a lot of recommendations, we’re excited to share this list of 100 secondary schools that can give educators a refreshing outlook on what schools can do. This list includes schools that achieve extraordinary results for underserved communities, create powerful learning experiences, and/or are innovative blended and competency-based models.

Middle & High Schools

1. Partnerships with business leaders. Nuvu, in Cambridge Massachusetts, is an innovative school based on a project-based studio model lead by coaches who are leaders in their industry, experts in diverse fields, and passionate thought leaders.

2. Platform play. Brooklyn LAB personalizes learning with a next-gen platform and high dose tutoring. The middle school serves students in the heart of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle with a high school opening in the fall (featured here and in this XQ video).

3. Blended character development. Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville has two middle schools that will add a grade each year through high school. Their balanced approach combines blended learning, character development and expeditions.

4. STEM PBL. iTech Prep in Vancouver Washington is a 6-12 grade tech-rich STEM school featuring project-based learning. The middle school meets at a community center, while the high school is on the WSU campus (watch video).

5. Environmental. Highland Tech Charter School is a 6-12 learning environment that promotes mastery learning through integrated project-based learning. Guiding ideas include Shared Leadership, Shared Vision, and Personal Mastery through standards-based instruction with systemic and systematic Continuous Improvement (featured on CompetencyWorks).

6. Museum. Grand Rapids Public Museum School is a partnership between a museum, three colleges, the city, and the school district. The XQ grant winner will grow into a 6-12 configuration.

7. Portfolios. Making Community Connections Charter School in Manchester, New Hampshire, is an innovative 7-12 school with a shared understanding of motivation, engagement and student agency. Experiences include personal learning, field experiences, internships and challenge activities. Students prepare portfolios and a presentation in order to pass through gateways onto the next phase (featured on CompetencyWorks). MC2 opened a 9-12 campus in Keene NH.

8. Statewide. Virtual Learning Academy (VLACS) is New Hampshire’s competency-based online 6-12 school with 20,000 course enrollments and performance-based funding (featured by CompetencyWorks and NGLC).

9. First generation. Eastside College Prep is a secondary school serving first generation college aspirants in East Palo Alto. They were an early adopter of Khan Academy and blended math. Students progress on mastery but classrooms encourage collaborative learning (featured here).

10. Blended. Desert View Middle & High School in Yuma Arizona was a pioneer in blended learning with an effective combination of personalized online learning in a lab setting and workshops taught by master teachers.

11. Leadership. Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders serves 800 Austin girls in grades 6–12 in Austin, Texas. All graduates attend college, most in STEM fields.

12. Girls in STEM. Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy opened in 2011 in Houston in partnership with the Young Women’s Preparatory Network (one of eight other similar schools in Texas). They gave a terrific presentation at SXSWedu on coding and robotics.

13. Community Center. Gary Comer College Prep, part of the 17 school Noble Network, is doing great work in providing new opportunities and a safe learning environment to students in one of Chicago’s toughest places to grow up (see our recent feature).

High Schools

14. Playlists & Projects. Summit Everest in Redwood City is the flagship highschool of the network with 12 innovative features. With a help from Facebook engineers, Summit invited a hundred schools to use their personalized learning platform, which serves up individualized skill building playlists and challenging projects (featured here and in this XQ video).

15. Environment. Furr High School (@FurrHS) in Houston ISD is a big neighborhood high school in transition with a project- and place-based model grounded in the rigors of environmental and nutritional sciences. (See XQ video.)

16. VR. Washington Leadership Academy in DC made VR central to the learning vision. “It’s a new way of using VR, it’s real disruption,” said co-founder Seth Andrew (listen to our podcast with Seth). WLA won an XQ grant (see video).

17. Art. Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) is a great example of city as campus. Adjunct performers and artists support depth and application (see feature).

18. Zoo. Science and Math Institute (SAMI) at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma is a great STEM school with built in zoo internships and outdoor science (below). They collaborate with SOTA (above) on academic and extracurricular opportunities.

19. Library. e3 Civic High is located in San Diego’s spectacular new downtown library. Students learn through a mixture of self-paced online instruction, teacher or student-led small-group instruction, direct instruction, and problem-based and project-based work. They benefit from strong supports and extended learning opportunities (featured here).

20. Mindset. While in San Diego, visit Kearny High School of Digital Media & Design. The student-centered, project-based school stresses productive “Habits of Mind.”

21. Iteration. Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD) serves a diverse group of 9th and 10th graders with a focus on innovation and design thinking in an environment that that is personalized, blended and competency-based. DSISD is also supported by Carnegie’s Opportunity by Design High School grant program.

22. Flex network. Nexus Academy of Lansing is part of a 7 school midwest network of flex academies supported by Connections Learning. Students work at their own pace with access to teachers, a success coach, college counselor, and personal trainer.

23. Health. Cornerstone Health+Technology High School in Detroit combines individual goal setting, project-based coursework, online learning, internships and teacher support.

24. Flipped school. Clintondale High School, also near Detroit, flipped much of their instruction using content on Gooru. Superintendent Greg Green said, “We found that this redesign of the classroom yielded significant results.” Check out his TEDx talk.

25. Project-Based. Anson New Tech, east of Charlotte, North Carolina, integrates related subjects such as world geography and earth science or American literature and history. The 200 schools in New Tech Network share Echo, a project-based learning management system.

26. Capstone. METSA New Tech says “Our mission ensures that students are strategically prepared for the rigor and self-discipline of college and the innovative demands of STEM career pathways,” and this is in spite the fact that more than 70% of the Carrollton, Texas students live in or near poverty. A capstone service projects culminates the METSA experience (see our feature).

27. Just the Ticket. The staff at Leadership Public Schools in Oakland built Exit Ticket, a classroom assessment and competency tracking system. LPS is an example of a collaborative and distributed innovation agenda across a network of schools. They have a productive partnership with Gooru, where superintendent Louis Waters is Superintendent in Residence (see profile).

28. Computer Science. Alpha: Cindy Avitia High School in San Jose is part of Alpha Public Schools, a blended learning leader. Despite humble modular settings, the Avitia staff personalizes learning and college and career preparation including computer science (below, see feature).

29. Interest-Based Learning. The 100 Edvisions high schools use Project Foundry and a variety of tools to support student-centered and project-based learning. Start with a visit to teacher-run Minnesota New Country School (profiled here).

30. Internships. The 100-school Big Picture network does the best job of identifying student interests and creating related internships. We featured Camden Big Picture Learning Academy in a PBL post. Providence BP schools are using project-based College for America curriculum for dual credit.

31. Travel. THINK Global School students use the latest equipment to “record, report, and share their global education online as they travel the world.”

32. Challenge. NYC iSchool blends computer adaptive learning with challenges that require students to work together to present real solutions to real problems.

33. Expeditions. Casco Bay High School in Portland Maine is an EL Education school which keeps the school’s goals “clear, ambitious and essential.” Casco juniors engage in a long-term interdisciplinary project that results in demonstration of learning (featured on CompetencyWorks and Springpoint).

34. Proficiency. Poland Regional High School, a member of the New England Secondary School Consortium, was an early leader in proficiency-based graduation.

35. Character. Denver’s DSST: Stapleton High School may be the best high poverty STEM school in the country but it’s also really good at character development. “We’re a values first organization,” said CEO Bill Kurtz.

36. Journalism. The nation’s biggest and best journalism program is Palo Alto High School. Esther Wojcicki asks her students to write at least 250 words every day. Students produce professional quality publications.

37. Big blocks. Reynoldsburg City Schools has two facilities and four academies, including eSTEM, featuring triple blocks on big topics like Energy, Environment and the Economy.

38. 1:1. The Chicagoland Leyden High School District 212 was the leader in launching 1:1 Chromebooks in 2012. Check out tech director Bryan Weinert’s blog for details.

39. Gradual release. Huntley High School, northwest of Chicago, features a blended learning program where teachers set the number of days in class needed from week to week depending on how the class is doing, or how individual students are progressing. Students can study in the HUB (below) in individual or team spaces. (See our feature and blog on innovation leadership.)

40. Inquiry. Science Leadership Academy is an inquiry-driven, STEM-focused, project-based school formed as a partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute.

41. Entrepreneurship. Also in Philly is Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, a cool private school with a partnership with Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

42. Liberal Arts. Veritas Preparatory Academy, part of the Great Hearts network, is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education and developing young people of character. The high school day starts with Humane Letters, a two-hour Socratic seminar where students read great books and the founding documents (featured here).

43. Alternative. Eagle Rock (@EagleRockSchool) in Estes Park, Colorado, is a initiative of American Honda, is both a high school and a professional development center for educators (and a very cool place to visit).

44. Competency-based. Building 21 Philadelphia is a non-selective competency-based public high school in Philadelphia supported by a nonprofit launched by three Harvard grad students. Students are supported to design their own pathway to graduation—a pathway defined by B21’s competency-based framework—with a series of dashboards for students and teachers to use to inform their experiences (featured on CompetencyWorks).

45. Tutoring. Match High School, Boston, utilizes individualized tutoring for every student in support of a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum. Match Education also runs Match Beyond, a college access program for young adults in partnership with project-based College for America (featured here).

46. Art+. While in Boston, visit Boston Arts Academy which creates great art learning and exhibition opportunities with the Professional Arts Consortium, and cohabitates with another great small school, Fenway High.

47. Alt Mashup. Boston Day and Evening Academy has proficiency-based pathways that allow students to progress based on demonstrated mastery rather than seat time. Students benefit from wraparound services, digital tools that help create a personalized approach, and a school open 12 hours a day. Self-paced alternative ed meets adventure-based leadership training meets blended learning (see feature).

48. New Tools. E.P.I.C.C. Academy at East Hall High School in Gainesville, Georgia, is a dynamic blend launched by @JohnHardison1 and documented weekly on Getting Smart.

49. Early College. Bard College at Simon’s Rock is “a small, selective, supportive, intensive college of the liberal arts and sciences in the middle of the Berkshires.” Students enroll after 10th or 11th grade. Simons Rock was the basis for the 7 school Bard Early College network, where students can leave high school with an Associate’s Degree.

50. Service. Quest Early College High School in Humble ISD (north of Houston) has a great student-led service learning program. Co-located with Lone Star College, an amazing 80% of graduates (many first generation college goers) leave with an AA degree (see feature and listen to our podcast).

51. Early College for All. Middle College High School has great performance levels, with the majority of seniors earning an AA before they walked at graduation (and half were accepted into UCI upon graduation). Similarly, Corona-Norco’s John F. Kennedy Middle College High School is a good program, but neither is very far along on blended learning.

52. Alt Early College. Beaverton Early College High School is part of the a network sponsored by Portland Community College where at-risk students can earn a high school diploma and an associate degree (see Early College High Schools).

53. Catch Up. Schools for the Future Detroit is a new competency alternative high school already generating results with a strong culture of learning, strong transparency, and a blended approach to literacy. The SFF network serves overage and under-credited students and uses a mastery approach to help them recuperate lost credits while accelerating their path toward college-ready standards and high school graduation (featured by NGLC).

54. IB. The 30 schools of IDEA Public Schools prepare all of their south Texas students for college with AP and the rigorous International Baccalaureate program. Visit the flagship high school in Donna and the K-8 feeder school featuring a lab rotation blend (featured here).

55. Global. West of Milwaukee is the lovely area of Kettle Moraine, with a big high school that houses some very interesting charter schools including KM Perform, with a performing arts blend, and KM Global, a flex model global studies school.

56. Deeper Learning. The Springfield Renaissance School in central Massachusetts is “centered upon issues, problems, and challenges that either face our society now or have lessons applicable to modern times.” (See feature on Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day).

57. Early College STEM. Metro Early College High School was launched in 2006 in partnership with the Ohio State University and Battelle. Students tackle big ideas, do real work, and take classes at OSU. Metro anchors the Ohio STEM Learning Network (featured here).

58. Blended. Innovations Early College High School is a student centered, personalized school attached to Salt Lake Community College South City campus. Student take from one to eight courses at a time.

59. Tech Jobs. IBM launched the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn in 2011 in partnership with CUNY and City Tech. The 9-14 model has been replicated to 37 schools in NY with 70 industry partners. Staffing, scheduling and the strategic use of data are key to their success.

60. STEM Curriculum. Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy is one of the five CPS Early College STEM Schools. A partnerships with IBM and Daley College allow students to work with professionals, acquire industry certifications and earn significant college credit while completing a rigorous high school program.

61. Work Study. Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago anchors the 30-school network of Catholic schools. Students takes a full college prep course load and work one day each week in a Corporate Work Study Program to fund the majority of their tuition. Initiated out of financial desperation, the work study builds valuable success skills and work experience. We recently visited Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School in Chicago.

62. Robotics. Achievement First University Prep in Brooklyn was highlighted in the news for its robotics program. All tenth graders took the AP test, and 50% passed with a score of 3 or higher. Acceptance to a four-year college or university is a graduation requirement.

63. Advanced Manufacturing. RAMTEC in Marion, Ohio (an hour northwest of Columbus) at Tri-Rivers Career Center runs career and technical high school programs in advanced manufacturing, engineering technologies and welding. Through corporate partnerships, RAMTEC is able to offer high school students, community college students and adult workers some of the most current job training in the country (see feature).

64. Manufacturing Internships. GPS Education Partners manages 15 eastern Wisconsin education centers in partnership with 35 districts and more than 200 business partners. High school juniors and seniors take blended classes in the morning and participate in manufacturing internships in the afternoon. They graduate with job certificates and often college credit (see feature).

65. Career Tech. Career Path High, north of Salt Lake, is a flex high school located at a technical college. Students leave high school with a job certificate and college credit (see our trip report).

66. Career High. Carl Wunsche Sr. High School in Spring, TX, puts students on one of three industry career paths (technology, health and professions), and supplements their curriculum with real-world experience (see our feature).

67. Career Skills Development. The Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), south of Kansas City, takes an innovative business-partnership approach to giving its students professional and business skills that help them succeed in a range of industries.

68. Finance. Southwest Miami High Academy of Finance, a member of the NAF network, has a 17-year track record of business partnerships that support student work experiences. The school, which serves a Hispanic neighborhood, has a 100% graduation and postsecondary enrollment rate. Miami Dade offers 49 NAF programs in the five career themes of Engineering, Finance, Health Science, Hospitality & Tourism and Information Technology at 26 high schools.

69. Hospitality. Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Academy of Hospitality & Tourism in North Miami is also an NAF academy. Every student completes a 150-hour internship between their Junior and Senior years. The school has a productive relationship with the adjacent Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism at Florida International University.

70. Urban. KIPP San Francisco College Preparatory is the first blended high school in the KIPP network (see NGLC profile).

71. Design. Design Tech High School ( is a new charter high school in San Mateo merging blended learning and design thinking with a focus on success skills to help students forge an identity that will help them as students, professionals, and citizens. A new facility on the Oracle campus is being built.

72. SEL. Fusion Academy, founded in Solano Beach, California, is a network of 33 nontraditional, alternative, one-on-one schools educating middle and high school students with particular attention to social emotional learning.

73. Humanities. Humanities Preparatory Academy, in NYC, is one of hundreds of new small coherent high schools formed in NYC in the last decade. Launched in 1997 with support from New Visions for Public Schools, the Humanities Prep team embraced a mission “to provide a philosophical and practical education for all students, an education that features creativity and inquiry, encourages habitual reading and productivity, as well as self-reflection and original thought.” As a democratic community, they strive to exemplify the values of democracy: mutual respect, cooperation, empathy, the love of humankind, justice for all, and service to the world. It’s also a member of the NYPSC.

74. ELL. Bronx International High School, opened in 2004 as part of the NYC small schools initiative, was the fourth school in the Internationals Network for Public Schools which serves immigrant youth new to English. The network of 18 schools integrates language development and academic content while building student and family capacity for integration into American society (featured on CompetencyWorks).

75. Young Men of Color. EPIC North is a new school in NYC designed to make sure that young men of color will thrive. As the EPIC Playbook describes, it combines competency education with youth development, cultural relevance and high engagement learning (featured on CompetencyWorks).

76. Essential. Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, west of Boston, has been in the vanguard of progressive, student-centered public education for over twenty years, and draws most heavily on the work of Ted and Nancy Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools (featured by Springpoint). It’s a good place to learn about advisory, assessment, and habits of learning.

77. Project-based. City Neighbors High School in Baltimore, a Big Picture affiliate, is a project-based arts-infused high school with a great advisory system where where people are known, loved and inspired.

78. Flexibility. D-B EXCEL in Kingsport, Tennessee is a small blended and project-based high school with a cool campus and lots of community connections.

79. Coding. Phoenix Coding Academy focuses on computer coding and multiple technology pathways through an inquiry-based instructional design. Students address big problems and learn how to use computation as part of the solution. (Listen to podcast with one of their supporters, Google’s Jaime Casap.)

80. Rethinking comprehensive. Vista High is a big comprehensive school north of San Diego. After initial success as a personalized learning program within a school, the leadership says that “XQ gave us the permission to think bigger and go to scale so ALL students can experience the benefit.” A Vista student reflects, “When we do challenge learning, we think and solve problems.” (See XQ video).

81. Design for Good. After a decade of successful after-school programing, Boise nonprofit One Stone opened a small innovative high school to help young people make the world a better place (see feature and video).

K-12 Schools

82. College prep. E.L. Haynes was founded in 2004 by now Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles. When Eric Westendorf was principal, he started creating instructional math videos with his staff—it caught on and became LearnZillion (listen to our podcast with Eric). The college prep program features a longer day and year with lots of enrichment opportunities.

83. Show & Tell. High Tech High has four K-12 feeder patterns—two on the main campus in San Diego, one in north San Diego Country and one near the border in Chula Vista. All are great examples of integrated project-based learning and spectacular student art.

84. Full court press. Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy Charter Schools provides data-driven instruction, Student Advocates who work with children one-on-one and collaborate with parents and teachers, and full wrap around services.

85. Top shelf. Avenues: The World School is the NYC anchor to what will become an international network of K-12 schools. Teachers at the elite private school use a combination of flipped classroom and station rotation strategies. The dual language (Mandarin or Spanish) school make extensive use of open content, and eduClipper is crafting a next-generation platform for qualitative social assessments.

86. EduMakerCincy. Cincinnati Country Day School was an early 1:1 leader. The private elementary has a Montessori option. The middle school has an interdisciplinary focus.

87. Whole child. Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, a private school in Santa Monica founded 40 years ago by Dr. Paul Cummins with a focus on whole-child education, is a pioneer for social-emotional learning. Twenty years ago Cummins opened New Roads School, a similar but more diverse school with a strong commitment to financial aid.

88. Blended rehab. American International School of Utah is a great example of rehabilitated retail space. Early grades use a Montessori approach. Intermediate grades are student-centered, similar to another school worth visiting—Acton Academy. The high school has big blended blocks that use a mixture of learning spaces that allow for student choice while encouraging ownership. The music and drama program are exceptional (featured here).

89. Eastbay maker. Lighthouse Community Charter School, a diverse K-12 community, is fast becoming Oakland’s leader in Maker Education through the great work of their Creativity Lab. Their second school, Lodestar, is an NGLC planning grantee. Rogers Family Foundation has partnered with the Creativity Lab and Mirus Labs to host about 15 Oakland Maker Fellows, many of whom are teachers in NGLC planning grant schools.

90. Liberal Arts. Renaissance Academy is a K-12 public charter school in Phoenixville, 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Co-located with several businesses and educational service providers in a mixed-use factory redevelopment known as Franklin Commons, it serves 1,060 students. The longer day and year support a strong advisory program, AP and dual enrollment courses, and service learning (see feature).

91. Travel. Democracy Prep students have the opportunity to visit five continents while attending this high performing network of 17 east coast schools. Democracy Prep Charter Middle School, opened in 2006, became the highest performing school in Central Harlem and was ranked the number one public middle school in New York City. The network is developing K-12 feeder patterns in New York, Camden New Jersey, and Washington DC.

92. College completion. University Academy in Kansas City sends all of its graduates to four year universities—and is working to ensure that they all graduate. The top performing Missouri school features international travel, drama, music, debate and strong extracurriculars (see our case study and podcast).

93. Urban. Urban Academy Labaratory High School uses performance-based assessment tasks as graduation requirements. The school was a founding members of the New York Performance Standards Consortium that share a rich performance assessment system. It was approved as an alternative to state tests by the Board of Regents in 1995 and reaffirmed in 2008 when additional schools were added (see feature).

Founder Ann Cook negotiated an early and nationally visible co-location of six schools at the Julia Richmond Education. Cook also cofounded the NY State Standards Performance Consortium (see our feature).

Cool private schools

94. Design Thinking. The Nueva School is a P-12 school with two bay area campuses offering a project based curriculum with design thinking and making at it’s heart. The iLAB at Nueva School is a great high end maker space.

95. Achievement and art. Harvard-Westlake School is a 7-12 school located in Los Angeles with an impressive selection of extracurricular arts and sports. It ranks among the top high schools in the country in number of National Merit Semifinalists.

96. Life Skills. Vistamar School is a high school south of LAX, founded in 2005, where students engage in Life Planning instead of college counseling. A high-quality, college preparatory learning environment serves a student body reflective of the diversity of Los Angeles.

97. Milton Hershey School (MHS) was founded in 1909 by chocolate maker Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine. MHS is a private boarding school where the cost is free for those students who qualify. The school focuses on maintaining small class sizes and innovative technology (see our feature).

98. Place-Based Education. Teton Science (K-12), in Wyoming, is on the leading edge of Place-Based Education. They have a wide range of school and professional development programs, and their students love it.

International Bonuses

99. Active learning. Singapore American School. A great school takes a “culture of excellence, possibility and extraordinary care,” said Dr. Chip Kimball. SAS is one of a handful that does does all three well. Through school visits and PLCs, the 4000 student school was transformed from a school with great test scores to a place that is preparing great people (see case study).

100. Green. The Green School in Bali combines a rigorous K-12 core curriculum with hands-on experiential learning within a Green Studies curriculum and a Creative Arts curriculum. Check out the spectacular bamboo architecture. It’s a boarding school, so you could send the kids and visit a couple times a year.

For more great schools to visit, check out our other recent Smart Lists: 85 Middle & High Schools Worth Visiting30 School Districts Worth Visiting and 75 Top School and Charter Networks.

We’re sure we missed hundreds of great schools. Who did we miss? Share in the comments section below, and don’t forget to check out our other recent Smart Lists at our Smart List Series Page.

This Smart List brings to an end our March editorial focus of “Creating Powerful Learning Experiences”. Join us in April, when we will be focusing on “Scaled Impact,” looking at how networks all around the country are achieving great things.

We’re sure we missed hundreds of great schools. Who would you add? Share in the comments section below, and don’t forget to check out our other recent Smart Lists at our Smart List Series Page.

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