Venture Academy Founder Jon
Bacal and Head of School Kerry Muse
An Interview with
The Civic Caucus
2104 Girard Avenue South,
Notes of the
Bacal, David Broden, Audrey Clay (phone), Janis Clay, Diane Flynn (phone),
Paul Gilje (coordinator), Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (vice
chair), Kerry Muse, Wayne Popham (phone), Dana Schroeder, Clarence
Summary of Discussion: Venture
Academy, a new Minneapolis public charter school opening in 2013 that will
serve sixth through 12th graders, will use a learning model that blends
personalized digital learning, experiential learning and student
self-direction. Venture's goal is to have students ready for college and
meaningful life missions by age 16. All students will be encouraged to
earn at least two years of college credit before they graduate from high
school. Bacal and Muse plan to hire versatile, creative and adaptive
teachers ("edu-preneurs") to help lead the blended-learning program. They
plan to compensate teachers 50 percent more than other charter-school
teachers, on average. They are hopeful the Venture model will inspire and
catalyze major systemic change in education and plan to launch additional
Venture campuses after the first school demonstrates success.
is the founder and chief entrepreneurship officer of
Academy, a new grade six-to-twelve public charter school located
Minneapolis, opening in August of 2013. Bacal founded the new school in
partnership with Civic Caucus chair Verne Johnson and experienced educator
Denny Morrow of Renewal Associates, LLC. Previously, Bacal was the founder
and start-up leader of Hiawatha Leadership Academy, a south Minneapolis
charter school, and co-founder/co-start-up leader of Twin Cities Academy
charter school in St. Paul. For five years, he served as the founding
executive director of SchoolStart, a nonprofit that catalyzed the launch
of nearly 20 Minnesota charter schools.
founding Venture, Bacal was the founding executive director of the
Minneapolis Public Schools' Office of New Schools, the state's first
approved school-district charter authorizer. He also served as founding
co-coordinator of the Minneapolis District-Charter Collaboration Compact,
an initiative of the Bill and
Gates Foundation. Bacal served for five years as education advisor for the
is chief learning officer and head of school for Venture Academy. As an
innovative math teacher leader at
Bridge charter school in Oakland, California, he helped propel KIPP Bridge
to become one of California's highest performing, high-poverty urban
middle schools. Muse initiated a pilot partnership with Khan Academy for
the 2011-12 year to implement the personalized online math program for all
KIPP Bridge sixth-graders.
percent of Muse's 73 sixth-grade math students attained proficiency on the
state test, including 89 percent of his low-income black students and 100
percent of his low-income Hispanic students. Overall, his students made
average annual math gains of 200 percent, or two years' academic progress,
during each of their two years (fifth grade in 2010-11 and sixth grade in
2011-12) with Muse. His 2012 sixth-grade math proficiency results are well
above the results attained that year by any
school with a similar student profile.
In 2010-11, Muse was
responsible for KIPP Bridge's highest-ever fifth-grade math results,
achieving 86 percent student proficiency on the 2011 state test. Over his
six years of teaching at Bridge, he served as a grade-level team leader
and school-wide special education leader, responsible for coaching
teachers, school culture, discipline, parent meetings and special
education compliance. Muse also designed and led a self-contained
classroom for KIPP Bridge's lowest performing (in academics and behavior)
sixth-graders, who made an average of three years' (300 percent) academic
progress over a single year, most starting out at a fourth-grade level and
finishing ready for seventh grade. He is an alumnus of KIPP's training
program for teacher leaders. A Texas native, he began his teaching career
in 2003 as a special education teacher in Texas district high schools.
beginning of the discussion, Jon Bacal noted that recently deceased Civic
Caucus Chair Verne Johnson had catalyzed Venture Academy's founding as an
encourager, cofounder and engaged board member. Bacal wished to pay
tribute to Johnson's contribution, described more fully in
a new grade six-to-12 public charter school, set to open in Minneapolis in
2013, will be Minnesota's first blended learning middle-high school.
Blended learning describes learning that involves at least partially
personalized online delivery of content and instruction, with some student
control over the pace of learning, and that takes place at a supervised
brick-and-mortar location away from home.
learning can be used to:
to individual student interest, needs and pace;
Extend the reach of
exceptional teaching to
serve more students;
student-directed and experiential learning;
available for the arts,
humanities and one-to-one teacher coaching.
Kerry Muse explained that blended learning combines digital content and
tools with face-to-face instruction:
interacting with the teacher and/or with kids working together
collaborating. "It won't look like a traditional classroom," he said.
"It's a space of personalized learning. Kids are working together and
individually. Some kids might thrive with the teacher out of the way; some
kids need one-to-one with the teacher; and some need both. Technology
allows us to do that effectively and efficiently."
personalized and experiential learning, students will take charge of their
learning in ways rarely seen or imagined in traditional schools," Muse
continued. "Regardless of background, all kids want to learn and are
capable of much more than they are credited for by the current system.
Some of the best ideas I've heard have been from 11- and 12-year-olds. At
Venture Academy, we'll create a space where students' interests, ideas and
engagement drive the learning."
you enable students to discover and pursue what interests them and shape
their own learning pathway, they are likelier to reach their peak learning
potential," Bacal added, noting the 300 percent learning gains Muse
achieved in his previous school using personalized blended learning. "When
a school can ignite their passion and help them find a sense of purpose,
students will put in the intensive practice required to develop expertise
and even greatness."
Venture's mission is to inspire passionate civic innovators and
entrepreneurial leaders who imagine opportunities, take initiative and
create solutions. Its vision is that through practice, anyone can become
great at anything.
Venture aims to transform learning to prepare all young people, but
especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, for college learning and
purposeful life pathways by the age of 16, and it aims to do so at a
sustainable cost. Venture Academy recently was awarded one of 20 Next
Generation Learning grants in a national competition funded by the Bill
Important features of Venture's learning program include:
Learning goals set by the students;
Real-time data allows teachers and
students to track individual learning;
Real-time data shows how many students
in the class are mastering detailed learning-unit breakdowns, e.g.,
adding negative numbers.
Venture's model is designed to motivate young people, most entering the
school far behind academically, to achieve dramatic gains by letting them
take charge of learning. Venture aims for its students to attain annual
literacy and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts/design and
math) learning gains of at least twice the national average and to be
ready for college-credit coursework by age 16. Venture empowers every
student and teacher to personalize, own, track and accomplish these goals.
Academy has three model elements:
1. Inspiring innovators and leaders.
Inspiring passionate, purposeful innovators and entrepreneurial leaders is
not only an aspirational goal after graduation. While at Venture, students
and staff will engage in "the passionate, deep practice of innovative,
entrepreneurial leadership by taking charge of their learning and taking
responsibility for school-wide improvement. Blending the best digital
content and tools and hands-on experiential learning to extend the reach
of exceptional teacher-edupreneurs and personalized coaching, Venture will
cultivate the knowledge, skills and mindsets of imaginative and courageous
21st century trailblazers."
Venture's educators and students will seek constant improvement by
tracking learning progress and adapting programs, methods and tools with
the support of personalized digital learning plans, data dashboards and
real-time feedback. Students, educators and leaders will always be
encouraged to try new approaches, take risks, admit mistakes and share
lessons. "Failing fast is essential to learning."
3. Growing great people.
Talent Code's Daniel
Coyle, Venture believes that great learning, leadership and character are
neither innate nor mysterious. "Venture is designed to ignite the passions
of young people and educators to relentlessly practice becoming great
learners, educators, leaders and human beings."
Academy's leaders believe replicating and scaling Kerry Muse's California
learning results in Minnesota could make Minnesota, in former Gov. Rudy
Perpich's words, the "Brainpower State"
Achieving 200 percent to 300 percent
annual learning growth for students;
Freeing up time for arts, sciences,
civic leadership and other student passions;
Ensuring that virtually all students
would be ready for college by age 16;
Dramatically expanding the pool of young
people ready to thrive in the 21st century;
Wiping out learning gaps and learning
Students in grades six to 12, the grades targeted by
Academy, make up about half of the total school enrollment both in
Minnesota and in Minneapolis.
Jon Bacal noted that Minnesota has about one million K-12 kids in public
and private schools and more than half of them are in grades six through
12. Similarly, Minneapolis has approximately 50,000 K-12 public- and
private-school students, half in grades six through 12.
Innovative Quality Schools (IQS) has approved sponsorship of Venture
IQS is a new, single-purpose authorizer of charter schools. Its
authorization of Venture is awaiting approval by state Commissioner of
Education Brenda Cassellius.
Venture's operations and results will be open and public.
Bacal said Venture is part of a national
Corporation study, so everything about the school will be public,
including its learning results. "It's hard to explain the blended-learning
concept," added Muse. "It's hard to contextualize it if you haven't seen
it. We want to get as many people as possible to see this first school. We
need an open-door, fishbowl environment, so people can see it and tell us
what they think," he said.
Decades of small-scale innovations have not fundamentally changed the
nature of schooling.
Bacal noted that there have been "wonderful innovations" in education, but
the system and the nature of schooling remain unchanged. Many innovations
have relied on soft money, Bacal said, but a school like Venture Academy
"could start in a church basement. It can be done with the resources we
provide schools in Minnesota." Venture Academy has not yet settled on a
location, but Bacal expects that the school will be located in either
or south Minneapolis.
urged that there be a policy shift away from a culture of compliance in
education to one of more flexibility. "There is a lot of fear among the
adults, and therefore also among the kids, of the system, because of its
top-down nature." Bacal said the culture of compliance consumes lots of
time and psychic energy of teachers and of kids and we must move away from
rubber band snaps back," Bacal said of the education system's reaction to
pockets of innovation. "That's part of the culture of compliance. That's a
challenge even when people inside the school have a different model."
According to Muse, Venture will blend character development, experiential
learning and academic rigor, including teaching kids how to think, how to
see problems and come up with solutions. The school will allow kids to
fail and then learn from it, by putting into practice what they've learned
through failure and moving forward.
policy for welcoming talented educators from other states could be
Bacal noted that Muse has three subject-area teacher's licenses (math,
special education, and art) in each of the two largest states in the
country (California and Texas), with more than nine years of total
public-school teaching experience. But currently he couldn't get a
standard teacher's license in Minnesota without going back to graduate
school, because Muse is alternatively certified.Venture needs the
flexibility, Bacal said, to be able to bring people in both from outside
Minnesota and from outside the teaching profession. "People who are
second-career teachers bring different experiences to the table for
teaching 21st century skills."
must be a mindset change," Muse said. "The American way of growing
teachers is already archaic. Kids don't access knowledge in the same way
they always did." There must be a policy shift to allow talented people
who want to teach and whom schools want to hire to have the opportunity to
teach, regardless of what their degree is.
Venture is looking for teachers who are versatile, creative and adaptive.
A questioner asked about the school's plan for hiring teachers. Muse
replied that they are relying on their personal networks to find teachers
with a similar mindset. They also plan to work with Teach For America.
"We're looking for the
'MacGyvers' of education: versatile, creative and adaptive,"
Muse said. "We must open the doors to teaching to creative people from all
sectors," Bacal added. "We need to find ways to grow teachers like this."
Academy will primarily serve Minneapolis and has 130 students signed up
for pre-enrollment into sixth grade.
Although as a public charter school Venture is open to any student in
Minnesota, the school is primarily serving students in Minneapolis. Of the
130 students who have pre-enrolled in the school, most are from south
Minneapolis. Bacal said the school's leaders want a cross-section of kids
from all backgrounds.
will start by admitting 120 sixth graders next fall and will grow by
adding a new class of 80 sixth graders each year, aiming eventually for a
total enrollment of over 400. The first-year goal is to have five
teachers, in addition to Muse as the chief learning officer and head of
school. Muse said the ratio of kids to adults would be 20 to 25 in the
first year. As the school grows and the kids learn to be self-directed
learners, that ratio will increase and there will be more kids per adult.
Venture teachers will be paid 50 percent more than other charter-school
teachers are paid, on average.
Responding to a question about the compensation level for the caliber of
teachers Venture seeks to hire, Bacal said the school will pay 50 percent
more than other charter-school teachers are paid. "We want our teachers to
earn in the upper five figures. We want their work to be deeply
fulfilling, enable them to grow professionally and as leaders, and let
them have a life outside of school."
Venture has much to learn from Montessori, Walden, project-based models
In response to a question, Muse said Venture has a lot to learn from the
Montessori and Waldorf models, and from project-based schools like
Minnesota New Country School, which they recently visited. There are also
a lot of elements from homeschooling that exist in Venture; the difference
is the learning community at the school.
Venture's program aims to have kids college-ready by age 16.
Bacal asserted that when the school has students college-ready by age 16,
they can take advantage of various Minnesota educational options, such as
Postsecondary Options (PSEO), college in the schools and taking
career-tech courses starting as sophomores. "Our ideal is that kids will
have at least two years of college credit by the time they graduate," he
Venture will help students develop a scientific mindset.
In response to a question about how to interest students in science, Muse
said, "It'd be great if we could get a real scientist to come and
collaborate." The school must help kids develop a real-life scientific
mindset by conducting experiments and dissections and having them observe
and collect data in situations that have real meaning.
Muse concluded by stating that Venture hopes to serve more students in the
future at additional campuses, but only after demonstrating success with
students. Bacal added, "There is a rich tradition of civic innovation in
Minnesota, creating opportunities for creativity. It's the perfect
environment for this small innovation to blossom."