​​​10 of America’s Most Innovative K-12 Schools

  • Avenues: The World School
  • AltSchool 
  • Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences 
  • Del Cristo Rey High School 
  • Fusion Academy
  • Saint Ann's School
  • Signature School
  • Shady Hill School 
  • THINK Global School (TGS)
  • e3 Civic High

Avenues: The World School

Avenues, located in Manhattan, is a private K-12 school that approaches education in a somewhat “backwards” manner. Parents and children are involved in the process from the start, focusing on the “outcome” at the end of  schooling and backtracks, step by step, to provide the child with a specific education catered to their desired end goal. It’s split between an Early Learning School, a Lower School, a Middle School and an Upper School. All of these schools are catered to the ages and levels of the students attending, but they share a similar goal in mind: “[to] prepare children for the global challenges and opportunities of the 21st century”. The first graduating class finally earned their diplomas back in 2016, so the school is still very early in it’s methodology, but their take on education is simple: expose students, from day one, to culture and material they would otherwise not be exposed to in a traditional private or public school. Their education is entirely based off a specific design and no two curriculums are alike. This style of customized education seems like it’s becoming more and more present in the private and charter schools in the country, and Avenues is leading the way for students’ immersion into a globalized world. Their mission statement reads: “We will graduate students who are accomplished in the academic skills one would expect; at ease beyond their borders; truly fluent in a second language; good writers and speakers one and all; confident because they excel in a particular passion; artists no matter their field; practical in the ways of the world; emotionally unafraid and physically fit; humble about their gifts and generous of spirit; trustworthy; aware that their behavior makes a difference in our ecosystem”. (Source: https://www.noodle.com/schools/ktbfeda/avenues-the-world-school)


While the AltSchool is only a K-8 system, the three AltSchool locations in New York, Palo Alto and San Francisco take a unique approach to education by creating a customized “Learner Profile” that assesses each child’s needs and personal interests and incorporates this into the curriculum, based on their preferences. Once “integrated into the school’s objectives”, students follow a path that matches their own style of learning without having to conform to fit the needs of other students. AltSchools incorporate “streamlined platforms” that organize and consolidate much of what encompasses a standard K-12 education. In fact, “the goal…is for this software to be widely implemented in schools across the country and possibly the world”. If anything, education the AltSchool system seeks to combine many commonalities across education into a centralized location with software that then is catered to each student’s specific needs. (Source: https://techcrunch.com/2015/05/04/altschool-raises-100m-from-founders-fund-…)

Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences 

Located in Santa Monica, California, this K-12 private school was founded by Dr. Rhoda Makoff and Dr. Paul Cummins along with a small following of parents and other teachers. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” inspired the name of the school as it emphasizes its’ main themes throughout the program: diversity, physical well-being, the arts, the community and excellence in academics”, taking a holistic approach to education. Unlike far too many schools in the United States, the arts are just as important as any other area of education, and those who excel in areas that may not provide much room to grow in other schools find themselves immersed in the curriculum just as much as those students interested in more “traditional” subjects, like math and science. Crossroads School provides “life-skills courses” that inspire self-exploration, personal growth, cultural studies and even meditation through guidance”, allowing students access to avenues of education they would most likely not receive at a traditional school. This style of schooling resembles a lifestyle choice over education-only, and because it’s been running since 1971, it’s obviously not doing too bad. In fact, students and teachers are so comfortable with one another, communication is usually on a first-name basis on both ends, fostering a sense of true comradely in the search for academic success. The school is one of the first of it’s kind–it’s focused on multi-faceted education and instilling social justice education within every area of the curriculum. One of the most interesting aspects within the Crossroads School involves the AP Courses that so many capable but, for whatever reason, underachieving students never get to take. The Crossroads School eliminated the AP courses, offering their own versions involving “Crossroads-like” themes into the lessons. Among other typical high school eliminations? Cheerleading squads. While some may find this school to be a bit far out, it’s approach is welcoming and refreshing to the typical style of teaching in our country. (Source: https://www.xrds.org/page)

Del Cristo Rey High School 

One of the most perplexing aspects of education involve the various parts that make up what it means to have a “well-rounded curriculum”. For millions of students in the United States, quality education seems like an unreachable goal, especially those who are living in poverty and low-income areas. Unless they’re given the opportunities resemblant of their fellow students at the best and the brightest schools, we can’t possibly expect them to grow up to have the tools to be the best possible versions of themselves. Del Cristo Rey High school, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, however, “found a novel way to address three educational challenges at once: the need to integrate real-world professional training with school curricula, the need for academic rigor, and the need for affordable educational options”, effectively gathered support from nonprofits, established educational institutions and private companies to provide education for students who would otherwise never learn in these types of environments. Schools throughout the United States could benefit from following a model like the one at Del Cristo Rey. Addressing multiple issues instead of just one throughout some of the most influential years in life seems to be an effective approach to high school education (Source: http://www.depaulcristorey.org).

Fusion Academy

There’s a sense of freedom when one finally escapes the confines of high school classes and enters University life. Schedules are not anything like those in K-12, classes may meet once, twice, three times a week usually and self-discipline is key to succeeding. What if this kind of flexibility and choice were offered in a 6-12 school? Founded in Solana Beach, California, 33 Fusion Academies are now currently in use throughout the country. This style of schooling allows children to thrive in their own style of learning, focused on their interests and level of difficulty. Students are offered far more choice in their scheduling and classes, meeting teachers and administrators regularly to maintain a healthy relationship fostering trust and understanding. Fusion Academies are for-profit educational institutions, but the school’s “emphasis on tailoring education to individual student needs, creating a flexible learning program and recognizing that learners’ social-emotional experiences may affect their academic growth speaks to a wider recognition that students’ development in schools fostered more effectively when it is treated in a less compartmentalized manner”. Like anything else, one-size-fits-all certainly doesn’t suit everyone who tries it and the same goes for traditional educational models. Some children aren’t meant to sit still in school all day. (http://www.fusionacademy.com

Saint Ann's School

This independent Brooklyn Educational Institution (Pre K-12) may be some students’ dream come true: no grades. This approach is revolutionary in comparison to the current, common, traditional model of education throughout the United States. Moreover, Princeton, Yale, Brown, Penn, Princeton and Harvard are just some of the many Saint Ann’s students’ college prospects when searching for the right school. These students are admitted to top universities without GPAs. Even though they are required to take mandatory standardized tests, the Saint Ann’s approach proves that the understanding of a person entirely is crucial to gaining an insight as to what’s beyond the numbers in standardized tests. Students need far more than just textbooks and computers, they need environments that thrive on conversation and respect for one another’s opinions and viewpoints and teachers who are willing to go beyond the traditional paradigms of traditional education in the United States. The “no grades” approach allows students to study the subjects that are meaningful to them without pressure of failing a certain course. Nothing is more discouraging than spending hours and hours on subject matter if one isn’t interested in the material. This time is better used focused on topics that pertain to the individual student’s needs–not state mandated guidelines. (http://www.saintannsny.org)

Signature School

Located in the heart of Evansville, Indiana, this 9-12 charter school seeks to “meet the needs of self-motivated learners in a progressive environment driven by global concerns” with a focus on well-rounded and specialized academics, creative arts, technology and service to community. As one of the highest-ranked high schools in the United States, Signature School’s reputation makes for a busy admissions season as the school is open to anyone qualified to attend an Indiana traditional public school. Lotteries take place to handle the enormous amount of applications every year. Signature School offers multiple diplomas, including International Baccalaureate Diplomas, Indiana Core 40 with Honors and the traditional Core 40 program. As the first charter school in Indiana, the Signature Learning Center based in Evansville along with a small group of teachers led the path to Charter success after the school first opened in 2002. Along with the school’s central Evansville main building, the campus now includes a Performing Arts Studio and state-of-the-art science center. The school’s curriculum is  “internationally based with emphasis on fine and performing arts, science, technology, mathematics and the liberal arts. All signature courses are written to comply with the Indiana Academic Standards for the the appropriate grade level and discipline”. While many of the schools on this list are private, Signature School is a public charter school, setting examples for what other traditional public schools could potentially implement in the future. This school offers a wide variety of options for students with varied interests and sets the bar high for what “could be” the norm in education throughout the United States. (Source: www.signature.edu

Shady Hill School 

This 3-8 grade level private school located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, implements an interdisciplinary and unique form of education called “phenomenon based learning”, allowing students to study specific themes (chosen by the students) through a variety of avenues. Finland’s implementation of this kind of education has proven to be wildly successful, yet this education system is still relatively foreign in the United States. However, Shady Hill School’s prepares students for a globalized world with specialized interests in issues that span beyond borders. Phenomenon-based learning, “does not include a strict set of rules, but rather comprises a combination of beliefs and best practices, supported by ongoing research. In this approach, a classroom observes a real-life scenario or phenomenon–such as a current event or situation present in the student’s world–and analyzes it through an interdisciplinary approach…an essential part of the process is that it is a student-led investigation, with students playing a primary role in identifying the gaps In their knowledge that they want to fill”. This type of education teaches students how to approach different topics from multiple viewpoints, creating an environment based in acceptance and tolerance rather than understanding things from only one point of view. Instead of passively receiving information, students “work alongside teachers to develop projects” allowing both parties to be equally involved in the transfer of knowledge and information. While this style of learning is still widely unused in the United States, Shady Hill Graduate statistics are proving this alternative style of learning is worth taking a second look at. (Source: https://www.shs.org/page)

THINK Global School (TGS)

Coined as the world’s first traveling high school, THINK Global School has no centralized location. They operate in twelve countries around the world, offering three years of coursework before completion. Students spend each year of “high school” in three to four different countries before moving on to the next grade level. The experience, then, becomes the entire foundation for each student’s education. “From huts to high-rise dormitories, each semester brings something new. You’ll experience life in twelve diverse countries, immersing yourself in the colors, flavors and languages of local cultures”, allowing students full and complete immersion into multiple cultures thousands of miles away from the United States. They emphasize “education through experience”  as they completely reinvent what it means to truly understand another culture. Students work towards an International Baccalaureate diploma, blending “world-schooling with the peer and faculty network of traditional schools”. “Students are required to learn the basics of each language native to the places in which they’re living for the semester”, whether it be Mandarin or Italian. Students each receive an iPhone, iPad and a MacBook Pro at the beginning of the year to complete all school-related work. While this style of education is certainly far from traditional, it encompasses real-life encounters with traditional facets of high school education to create an entirely different curriculum for students. Unlike anything seen before, TGS paints an ideal picture of what education could look like in the future. Students can create their own experiences based on their specific needs and interests. While this model may not work for everybody, those who feel a sense of “wanderlust” from an early age may benefit from this style of nomadic education. Students are exposed to so many different cultures and people, they become accustomed to intermingling with people from all walks of life. By gaining these types of experiences so early on, students are beyond ready to face university life in comparison to high school students who have only been around people from their own area. Although there is no technical “brick-and-mortar” establishment, both teachers and students are always connected with one another thanks to the technology provided to all students, ensuring streamlined and efficient conversation. (Source: http://www.thinkglobalschool.org)

e3 Civic High

This San Diego charter school, located in a public library in the downtown district, allows underprivileged children access to quality education, regardless of where they come from in the San Diego School District. The program focuses on “project-based instruction” utilizing state-of-the-art technology with research materials directly at their fingertips. While it may initially seem odd for a public library to house a school, the downtown area desperately needed “high-performing” school with so many children not receiving the education they deserved. This centralized location serves as a community-minded education environment, not just for e3 students, but for all students in the San Diego Metro Area. The space itself creates new opportunities for civic-minded students to collaborate with others in the community because of its’ proximity to so many resources. The academic model follows the “four P’s: people, pedagogy, programs and places”. Teachers and students work together to create a specific academic program catered to their needs throughout their entire high school experience. Students are also instructed through a variety of instruction methods, both “online and teacher or student-led small-group instruction, direct instruction and problem-based and project-based work”. e3 teachers implement as many hands-on projects as possible, as they believe this is the best way to get through to so many students at one time. Programs include career explorations, internship opportunities, early college credit classes and technical courses that are applied to students’ lives long after they’ve graduated high school. While this school is still in its’ early years, so far, the feedback has been positive and effective in the initial vision behind the founders of this school. It provides a much-needed method of combining two different entities that are able to co-exist in harmony. After all, schools usually have libraries in them…why can’t a library have a school in it? (Source: http://www.e3civichigh.com)