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'Micro-Schools' Network That Fuses Technology and Instruction Expands to Chicago

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AltSchools Chicago.jpg

AltSchools, a small private school network known for fusing instruction and technology and founded by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is opening its first campus in the Midwest.

The new Chicago location, scheduled to open September 2017, follows closely on the heels of a couple other campuses opening up in Palo Alto, Calif., and New York City this year. The now six-school network started with its flagship campus in San Francisco just two and a half years ago.

Founded by the former head of personalization at Google, Max Ventilla, AltSchools' focus on personalized instruction is driven heavily by technology—there's a technologist on staff for every teacher. Situated in storefronts in urban areas, the schools serve grades K-8 and are small. Called micro-schools, enrollment tops out at around 150 students.

Although AltSchools charge tuition, on average $25,000 a year with needs-based scholarships offered, the eventual goal is to create an educational model that public schools can adopt.

"That's like the original charter school idea: that they could discover things that could be used by other charter schools and districts," said Ventilla in an interview with Education Week. "That's not happening."

The Private School Advantage

As private schools, AltSchools have more freedom to not only experiment around instruction and classroom design, the network can also grow more quickly, said Ventilla.

AltSchools has four campuses in San Francisco, one in Palo Alto, and one in New York City. With a space now secured in Chicago, Ventilla says everything is on track to open his first AltSchool in the Windy City in September 2017. Ventilla is also looking into Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington as other potential cities to expand into.

AltSchools' expansion is being funded in part by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg and his wife, a pediatrician and former teacher, Priscilla Chan. The couple plans to open their own tuition-free private school in East Palo Alto for low-income families next year.

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Photo: Rendering of AltSchools' future Chicago campus —AltSchools

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