Note: This is taken from the Rennie Center’s newest report, “Rethinking Education: Reimagining when, where, and how learning happens.”
In an education landscape where many schools and educators are struggling to keep up with a rapidly changing modern world, Springfield International Charter School (SICS) stands out. A K–12 college preparatory school, SICS has taken the bold step to abandon many traditional school practices and embrace a school schedule at the high school level that mirrors the college experience.65 In practice, this means operating according to two rotating schedules that provide students with greater choice and equity in their education. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, students take six courses, each 50 minutes in length, primarily focused on core academic subjects. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, students take four courses, each 120 minutes in length, allowing time for labs and 30 new electives. This scheduling approach provides for greater flexibility in student cohort composition and abandons the assumption that in a small school, a majority of similarly aged students will be progressing through the same course material at the same time. SICS reports that many electives are mixed-age, offering leadership opportunities for older students and strong role models and peer support for younger students.
This schedule shift also appears to have benefited students in several ways, as observed by SICS. It sets and maintains higher learning expectations by providing students more time in their day to complete homework and work through challenging concepts, and by offering teachers an opportunity to provide more robust feedback on student work. This approach also helps reinforce transferable, real-world skills like time management, self-efficacy, and growth mindset. Finally, SICS students are better able to personalize their course of study with increased flexibility in pursuing advanced coursework or increased accommodations for students navigating personal responsibilities at the beginning or end of the school day.
In addition, SICS’ new schedule has been a key factor in the school’s ongoing experiment with its pedagogical approach. Previously, SICS followed a traditional college preparatory model, which (as described by John Cusick, the school’s Rethinking Grading Coordinator and English Department Chair) was focused on testing and compliance.67 In June 2023, SICS received a federal grant to examine its grading and assessment practices that is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and managed by the Rennie Center and reDesign. The grant pushed SICS to consider how its schedule, courses, and classroom practices could better support students’ deeper learning.
More specifically, this grant has helped advance SICS’ Skill Set Based Growth and Development Approach pilot. Begun in one SICS language class, students in the pilot are provided with course materials, tools, and online resources at the start of the semester and given assignments to work through in small groups. At the completion of each assignment students receive two grades and narrative feedback from their teacher. The first grade marks their mastery of course content. The second grade marks their demonstration of transferable skills such as collaboration, communication, leadership, and peer support, supplemented by written feedback on how to improve. If students apply the feedback on their next assignment, their overall grade is raised to reflect their continued progress and improvement.
In the 2023–24 school year, the pilot has been expanded to include and test out this approach in all academic subjects. The school has developed supports for faculty to implement the pilot, including common language and rubrics, while establishing treatment and control groups to assess the impact on student learning. To avoid a top-down approach and ensure buy-in, participation in the pilot remains optional for faculty. Initial feedback is positive. Most SICS students participating in pilot have seen their grades improve. In Mr. Cusick’s view, this success is rooted in the pilot’s student centered approach where students have greater control over, and responsibility for, their learning, and teachers have more insight into how students are doing and where they can offer support. Next year, the school intends to make participation in the pilot available to all SICS classes.
Moving forward, SICS envisions its new schedule and pedagogical approach as a strategic and necessary step toward holistic college preparatory learning. The new schedule lays the groundwork for SICS to develop a stronger identity as a college-preparatory school by preparing students to have a smooth transition into postsecondary, offering exploratory courses that investigate potential college majors and career pathways, supporting innovative efforts on current projects,and planting the seed for deeper, more complex learning.