AltSchool, the San Francisco-based startup that’s captured headlines for creating a chain of unique “microschools” and backed by more than $100 million in venture capital, is taking the next big step: opening up its resources and software to partner school designers.
At SXSWedu, AltSchool co-founder Max Ventilla announced the launch of a new partner program, called “AltSchool Open.” Teachers, administrators or anyone interested in developing a new school model—whether “micro,” private, parochial, charter or public—can apply to use the tools and resources that run AltSchool’s ecosystem. Those accepted will have access to the company’s educational services and software, along with support from its staff engineers. Currently, AltSchool is open to bringing into up to six partners.
What makes for an ideal partner? Ventilla reports that it can be a parent, teacher, or anyone interested in creating a small school of 50-100 students that, in his words, is “largely run by educators” (meaning no top-heavy central office) and “doesn’t over-rely on digital learning.” He also encourages people to apply if they’d like to start a “school within a school”—such as public school educators who want to play around with new models in a particular grade level, for example.
In an interview with EdSurge, Ventilla explained that he has always wanted to open the AltSchool platform to others, both to help school designers and to learn in kind from his potential partners. “We’re going to learn a lot from working with others, instead of doing everything in-house,” he said. “We want to strike that balance between doing what we do and learning new things.”
Ventilla says he’s excited to see the applications—but he’s not anticipating a huge deviation from what he’s already built, at least from the start. “I imagine the first schools opened through [AltSchool Open] will look pretty similar to AltSchool now.”
At first glance, the program appears reminiscent of Summit Public Schools’ Basecamp program offered by Summit Public Schools, a charter network in California renowned for its implementation of technology (with assistance from Facebook). The program offers partner schools and districts access to Summit’s Personal Learning Platform (PLP), all of its curriculum materials, and one full-time Summit employee to guide them on implementing the tools.
But Ventilla is quick to make a key distinction. He says that Summit assumes applicants already have school models, whereas AltSchool Open applicants can start from scratch. Further, Ventilla compares Basecamp to a “set of mad libs” where someone plugs answers into an existing model. In contrast, he describes the approach behind AltSchool Open as more of a “word processor” in it allows applicants more freeform to decide what they want to create. He elaborates:
“With Basecamp, it’s a much more developed program, but also much more narrowly applied, in that you want to apply the Summit approach. We’re about a level lower than that—the classroom experience will be largely up to you.”
Despite the launch of the AltSchool Open program, the organization is far from pausing on its own internal plans to launch more schools. Ventilla unveiled the sixth Bay Area AltSchool in San Francisco (set to open in fall of 2016), a third New York City School and the first school in Chicago (both set to open in fall of 2017).
Ventilla hopes that with these openings will contribute to AltSchool Open, creating a healthier network that both he and future partners can learn from.