Our Expanding Hawken Community: An Update on the Mastery School

February 11, 2020

While many students are just learning of the Mastery School as we approach the grand opening in August, the reality is that the Mastery School has been in the works for years. Mr. Looney, and former associate head of school Ms. Korda, have been brainstorming this idea of the Mastery School since the Entrepreneurship class began. Entrepreneurship and other macro courses gave rise to the question: “Can we create a whole high school like this?” as Ms. Griffin, head of the Mastery School describes. The question soon became how to present students to colleges without formal grades, which was solved by the creation of Mr. Looney’s Mastery Transcript containing more qualitative feedback centered around each course’s design. This project is a “once in a generation opportunity” lead by Ms. Griffin and her team of committed leaders to create an environment that’s best for students. This process is applying, reflecting, and learning by experience because “education doesn’t happen in a vacuum” as Ms. Griffin says. With this system, there will be a lot of trial and error over the next few years, but it will be first and foremost “what is right for the kids.”

The Mastery School is designed to focus more on educating students rather than grades. As Mr. O’Connor, humanities and future Mastery School teacher describes, one can earn credits “for anything … how you do on the football team or piano lessons you take outside of school.” As soon as an individual can present their accomplishments to a leadership board, they have fulfilled their requirements for that part of their transcript. One can earn credit for extra-curriculars that one often spends tremendous amounts of time on, yet never receives academic recognition. This transcript and credit system has been in the works for many months by the Mastery Design team. Another difference of the Mastery School versus traditional education is that the goal is to leave as many decisions as possible open to the students. This means that there will be trial and error in course selection and student activities that will evolve over the years. Students will get to work very closely with their teachers, as there is a ratio of 1 teacher per 4 students predicted for this upcoming year. These students will have a clear voice for future changes, and “co-create” the Mastery School as Mr. O’Connor describes, leaving the decisions “as open as possible to be built” because everyone is welcomed in the foundational decision making processes. Eventually, the staff hope to reach full capacity at 160-220 students, but until then, the students will be able to assist the faculty closely to make changes to the Mastery School in its first few years as the faculty and administration work to tailor the school to the student experience.

            The Mastery School will be located in buildings next to the Gries Center in University Circle. Mr. O’Connor and Ms. Griffin believe that this gives the team many “opportunities for community partnerships” that will “take school to the next level.” This location provides many opportunities for field trips around the various places in University Circle that will assist in “creating the structure and process in which the students and faculty can do their best work.”

            Students may have seen new faces around campus, many of whom are members of the design team and future teachers for the Mastery School. Some teachers are involved in the design process who will not be teaching at the Mastery School. This team is located in the Annex building hard at work brainstorming how the school will come together for August. Ms. Griffin describes this work as “the opportunity to build something from scratch.” For this opening, a lot of logistical pieces need to come together such as which classes will be in which room, and who will be teaching them. Ms. Griffin and her team have just reached a pivot point in which they are now “moving from a phase of planning to preparation.” While they do feel the pressure and time crunch, they are maintaining their focus on prioritizing the most important aspects of the school, such as class and curriculum formation and location of classes. Additionally, the admissions office is in the process of enrolling all of the students, with the application deadline having passed on January 17th. As Ms. Griffin notes that they are currently transitioning into a preparation phase, once all of the pieces and parts come together the Mastery School will be up and running this August.


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