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2019 High School Redesign Accelerator

What will you experience?

During the opening day of the High School Redesign Accelerator, all participants were together to ground the experience in redesigning through an equity lens and to hear from keynote speaker, Pamela Cantor, M.D., Founder and Senior Science Advisor of Turnaround for Children.

The rest of the High School Redesign Accelerator was organized into three strands:

  • Relevance

  • Rigor

  • Social-emotional learning

Team selected their strands during registration. At the HSR Accelerator, they dug deep into that strand with content from #RedesignRockstars from across the country. They experienced a cohort-like environment where they were able to network with school teams throughout the conference.

Why Accelerate?

We know your type. You are a dreamer, a strategizer, a planner.

You know more needs to get done to move the needle on equity, relationships, and engagement. And you know you can’t go it alone.

So now what? The Accelerator helped teams focus on a key lever for transformation.

At the Accelerator, teams focused on specific strategies to go deep in building momentum.

Is your school ready to drive change in:

  • Supporting equitable social-emotional learning of students?
  • Supporting equitable personalization and relevance of the programs you offer students?
  • Supporting equitable rigor of the educational program you provide students?

Teams left the Accelerator energized, focused, and ready to act!



June 26-28, 2019
Northfield High School on the Paul Sandoval Campus
5500 Central Park Blvd.
Denver, CO 80238
See what happened at the HSR Accelerator. View the One-Day Experience Agenda and Full Conference Program.


Pamela Cantor, M.D. is the Founder and Senior Science Advisor of Turnaround for Children, a nonprofit organization that connects the dots between science, adversity, and school performance focusing on outcomes and achievement.

Dr. Cantor practiced child psychiatry for nearly two decades, specializing in trauma. She founded Turnaround for Children after co-authoring a study on the impact of the 9/11 attacks on New York City schoolchildren. In schools with high concentrations of children living in poverty, she saw students deeply affected by their circumstances, teachers struggling to meet students’ needs and principals unable to build environments that support healthy development and academic achievement. Today, Turnaround translates scientific research about how children develop and learn into tools and services for educators to help all students thrive — impacting more than 50,000 students this school year alone.

Dr. Cantor delivered her keynote presentation via Zoom. Michael Lamb attended in person to work with teams.

View Dr. Cantor’s PowerPoint deck here.

View Dr. Cantor’s Keynote here:



Meet Our Expert Coaches

Schools and school districts require redesigned approaches to engaging students in challenging learning experiences, particularly those students furthest from opportunity. The Personalized Rigor Strand of the HSRA supported school teams to develop these equitable redesigned approaches, focusing on:

  • Determining which competencies students need to master to succeed beyond high school
  • Designing ways to rigorously & equitably assess proficiency on those competencies (think performance assessments, project based learning, rubrics, etc.)
  • Working with school communities to develop learning environments that tap into the unique strengths of each student through personalization. 

Developing equitably rigorous deeper learning opportunities 

Kevin GantKevin Gant
New Tech Network

Kevin Gant was a science and mathematics teacher for 18 years, across a spectrum of classes with most of his focus on Physics education. In his most recent classroom work, he was a founder of and the Lead Teacher at nex+Gen Academy, a public project-based high school in Albuquerque, NM. There he taught a senior level integrated Environmental Science and Statistics course from 2012 to 2015.

Kevin was an early adopter of constructivism and Project Based Learning, serving as the physics teacher at New Technology High School in Napa, California, a school at the vanguard of PBL instruction. That position led to his later work at the non-profit New Tech Network (NTN), serving as a School Development Coach, where he coached several nationally-recognized high schools. Kevin has returned to NTN, presently serving as Director of Network Innovation.

Kevin is a twice-certified National Board Certified Teacher (Physics, 2006 and 2016), and a recipient of the Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching in (NM, 2015).

Assessing deeper learning equitably & rigorously 

Suzanne MalekSuzanne Malek

As a Deeper Learning Coach for Envision Learning Partners, Suzanne Malek works with districts and schools to design rigorous and equitable assessment systems to measure the skills that matter most for success in a rapidly changing world. As a coach, Suzanne has been ELP’s project lead for successful school transformation partnerships in several states, leading and facilitating the design and implementation of assessment systems customized to the strengths, needs and priorities of different communities. Before consulting for ELP, she taught high school English and History, and spent several years as a lead teacher at an Envision high school in its early days. As a teacher, Suzanne developed several project-based social studies courses for the network, contributed to the development of its advisory program and portfolio defense system, and led teams of teachers to plan interdisciplinary projects that culminated in powerful public exhibitions of student work.

Designing, testing, and scaling systems of equitable learning 

Suzy ThomasSuzy Thomas
Menomonee Falls School District

Suzy Thomas is the Director of Quality and Analytics in the School District of Menomonee Falls, WI who works with all district employees to support them in doing their best work for the children of Menomonee Falls.  Suzy believes that focusing on people and developing the mindset and behaviors for improvement are key to establishing a culture of improvement.

Suzy has served as a math teacher, associate principal, and district-level director in the Menomonee Falls and Minneapolis Public School Districts.  She has been part of an administration team at Menomonee Falls High School that has improved student engagement and achievement by training, developing and empowering adults.

Suzy holds a BA in Mathematics Education from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, a master’s degree in Mathematics from Marquette University, and a degree in Educational Leadership from Cardinal Stritch University.


Teams who were part of the Relevance strand at the High School Redesign Accelerator were inspired by our #RedesignRockstars, coaches Elyse BurdenNatasha Morrison, and Mike Strong. These coaches worked with teams to ensure that all students are supported to construct meaning for what they are learning. Through connections to their own lived experience, studying how the world around them informs their lives and how working alongside their community will help them to apply the knowledge, skills, and competencies they are developing at school to the real world in a meaningful and impactful way.

Connecting school to the community

How might you make your school more relevant by exploring and connecting the school experience to the community eco-system that your students live in and care about?

Elyse BurdenElyse Burden
Real World Scholars

Elyse is passionate about equity and elevating the voice, role, and work of young people as they do work that matters to them. At Real World Scholars, we work to give students the opportunity and resources needed to be changemakers and social entrepreneurs in their communities – not one day, but right now. I believe in creative solutions and recognizing that young people are brilliant, creative, and angry enough to help the world find solutions to some of our scariest challenges.

Connecting school to the world of work

How might you make your school more relevant by connecting the knowledge, skills, and competencies students are developing at school to the world of work?

Natasha MorseNatasha Morrison
Da Vinci Schools

Natasha has spent a decade improving education through innovation and workforce readiness. In her current role as Director of Real World Learning with Da Vinci Schools, she collaborates with over 100 companies to bridge the gap between education and employment. Natasha creates and manages partner relations, internship and work experience programs, industry-support teacher PD and curriculum collaboration and real-world learning pathways. In partnership with social impact teams, Natasha provides students and teachers real world learning opportunities. She also works closely with Da Vinci’s Schools’ higher education program, Da Vinci Extension, to re-design the college model to prepare students for life beyond college.

As an education consultant and presenter, Natasha brings resources and results to education innovators throughout the United States. Known for keeping it real with next-day implementable tips, she expands schools’ access to workforce development. Natasha joined the Da Vinci team following many years working with students with special needs as a Teach for America corps member and a lead teacher in urban schools in Watts and Mid-City Los Angeles. In these roles, she saw a critical need to engage students through more practical, relevant education. Natasha is passionately devoted to creating happy, healthy, independent adults through ensuring that students are not only college-prepared but also career-ready.

Connecting school to lived experience

How might you make your school more relevant by teaching and learning through the experience as text?

Mike Strong
High Tech High

You’ll recognize Mike as a featured educator from the acclaimed documentary Most Likely to Succeed. This instructional leader at High Tech High champions not only the activities and benefits of project-based learning, but also sees the work educators are doing (and not doing) as critical battlegrounds for equity in our schools. He is a program officer Blue Dot Education, a place-based edu non-profit, an avid fisherman, a husband and proud dad of two.

At the High School Redesign Accelerator, we explored strategies that fuel social-emotional learning because we believe that all schools need systems that build these skills and respond effectively to the needs of both students and staff.  Teams dove into the challenge of developing school cultures of connection and designing learning environments that are safe, filled with trust, and relationship rich.  Teams had dedicated time to work on their own and also were coached by practitioner-leaders who have successfully implemented strategies to connect, motivate, and engage students and adults in their own learning, growth, and teaching.

Relationships that Fuel Human Development

Finessa FerrellFinessa Ferrell
Colorado Education Initiative

Finessa Ferrell is the SEL Specialist at the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) and the former director of the National Center for School Engagement. She has served as the Director of Homeless Youth Services for the state of Colorado and as a Senior Policy Analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. For over twenty years, Ms. Ferrell’s career has focused on the critical interplay between social-emotional learning, academic achievement and school safety. Ms. Ferrell is a frequent keynote speaker and delivers over thirty workshops with educators on these topics annually. Ms. Ferrell also serves as the lead SEL consultant to a network of high schools in Colorado and is on the board of the Center for Resiliency and Well-Being in Schools (CRWS) at the University of Colorado.

Dennis BainDenny Bain
Poudre High School

Denny is currently in his 13th year teaching high school Social Studies. He holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Social Science Education and has experience working with a diverse population of students starting in Oregon and now at Poudre High School in Fort Collins, Colorado. In addition to teaching Social Studies, he has always found himself working with students in a more in depth/personal capacity. Early in his career, he helped to create a summer school for incoming freshmen who were identified as needing a little more support. At Poudre High School, he was instantly drawn to the Ambassadors program and has been co-teaching the student mentoring students program for the last three years. Outside of school, his time is happily consumed with his family. He has been married to his incredible wife Abby for 14 years, and they have five beautiful daughters ranging in ages of 6-13. During this season of life, he is typically found with his family attending one of their many activities. He also enjoys running, hiking, reading and taking a nap when he can.

Cassie PoncelowCassie Poncelow
Poudre High School

Cassie Poncelow was lucky enough to have some incredible mentors as an adolescent. One of them was her High School Counselor who taught her that it was okay to not always be “okay” and that relationships mattered more than anything else. She also inspired her to be High School Counselor. Graduating in 2011 with an M. Ed. from Colorado State University, Cass has spent the past eight years as a School Counselor. She has continued to put relationships first including spearheading a dropout recovery program called Opportunities Unlimited, equipping all stakeholders in student support through mental health training termed ‘Mental Health Matters’ and the continued development of a student mentoring students program where upperclassmen mentor all Freshmen through full year curriculum that includes suicide awareness, stress management, diversity and sexual assault. Cass has been recognized at the state level with an award for her work in creating Individual Career and Academic Plans through programming including a Career Cab program where student make regular trips to businesses. Cass was invited to speak at National Congressional Briefings regarding this work (2016, 2018) and was named Colorado School Counselor of the Year (2016). She was a 2017 Escalante-Gardillas Best in Education Finalist and was a 2018 Finalist for the ASCA School Counselor of the Year. In the meantime, Cass gives a whole lot of high fives and has taught her trusty Therapy Dog, Kai, to do the same.

Whitney BuckendorfWhitney Buckendorf
Poudre High School

Whitney is a 2019 Poudre graduate and plans to go to school to study social work. She participated in the Ambassadors program at Poudre High School for two years. Whitney was also involved in Unified athletics, middle school mentoring, and the IB program. Outside of school, Whitney is on the Board of Directors for Sister Stan’s Children, and interns for a local women’s empowerment organization called Girls’ Rites.

Blake Knipple

Blake Knipple
Poudre High School

Blake is a 2019 Poudre graduate who plans on going to school to study environmental engineering. He participated in the Ambassadors program at Poudre High School for two years. He was also involved in soccer, Spectrum (the gender sexuality alliance), and the Environmentors program. Outside of school, Blake was involved in CrossFit and his churches youth group.

Rabi Phelan

Rabi Phelan
Poudre High School

Rabi is a 2019 Poudre graduate who plans to study at Montana State University in the fall. He participated in the Ambassadors program for two years. Rabi was the captain of both the soccer team and swim team. He was involved in the music program and loves the outdoors.


Litzinia Calva-Mendoza

Litzinia Calva-Mendoza
Poudre High School

Lytzy Calva was the first in her family to graduate high school in May 2019 who aspires to one day graduate college and enroll in law school to then become a district attorney. She has been a Poudre Ambassadors for 2 years. Lytzy has been a part of tennis, empowering women through the Girls’ Rites program and the Student Council, along with other activities. She is on the board of Mujeres de Colores Organization providing service and being an advocate of the Latino/Hispanic community.

Building a Commitment-Based Culture

Daren DicksonDaren Dickson
Valor Collegiate Academies

Daren Dickson is the chief culture officer at Valor Collegiate Academies, a small charter management organization in Nashville, TN. At Valor, Daren has helped create Valor’s Compass – a comprehensive human development approach that is at the core of Valor’s school model. He believes that adopting a human development and relationship-based approach to education is crucial for our world if we are to regain our collective balance and tackle the increasingly complex problems that face us.

Before starting Valor in 2013, Daren spent 16 years developing his skills as a therapist, clinical and program director, and social justice advocate in California. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has spent much of his career working with vulnerable youth and communities through Seneca Center, a non-profit agency in the Bay Area, California. Much of Daren’s work at Valor is a translation of this work for a public school setting and focuses on intentional personal growth, community-building, trauma-informed practices, and restorative discipline.

Mr. Dickson has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering (Denver University and Stanford University) and a Master’s degree in Integral Counseling (California Institute of Integral Studies).

In his free time, he likes to revel in his twin seven-year-olds who remind him to be present, wild, and embodied. He also loves spending time with his wife, Lauren, who is his rock and partner in social work, and with his dog, Jetsan, who reminds him daily what it means to give goodwill freely to the world.

Todd DicksonTodd Dickson
Valor Collegiate Academies

Todd came to the field of education as a second career in 2000 after successfully building a residential real estate company in Colorado, from 1995-2000. After attending Stanford for a Master’s degree in education, he was a founding teacher and leader at Summit Public Schools.

Under his leadership as Principal, Summit Prep was named one of the top 10 Transformational Schools in the country by Newsweek (using comparative graduation rates, SAT scores, AP performance, and number of low-income students). Summit was also featured as an education solution in the nationally acclaimed documentary Waiting for Superman. Mr. Dickson moved to Nashville in 2012 and opened Valor Collegiate Academies. In its first year, Valor was the top rated academic school in Nashville, and the only school in the State of TN to be in the top 1% for both achievement and growth. Valor has continued to be the top performing academic charter network in the State of TN as it has grown to three schools. Valor has also developed a nationally recognized comprehensive human development approach, Compass, that is a key driver of their success – they are currently scaling Compass to over 300 schools around the country.

Mr. Dickson holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Denver where he was named the Colorado Engineering Student of the Year among all Colorado colleges. He was also was an All-American lacrosse player and team captain. In addition, he holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University. When not thinking about how to transform public education, Mr. Dickson enjoys spending time with his wife and their three young children, one of whom is a rising Valor 5th grader. He also enjoys running, surfing, and watching all things Colorado sports.

Connecting the Dots between Brain Science, Context, and Student Skills

Michael LambMike Lamb
Turnaround For Children

Michael Lamb has led Turnaround for Children’s district, network and school partnerships in Washington, D.C. for more than five years. He also trains district, network and school leaders; teachers and social workers; and delivers professional development presentations and workshops to educators nationally.

Before joining Turnaround, Michael helped lead the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and was a Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education on school turnaround and high school redesign. He worked as an organizer on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. One of the most important experiences in his career was teaching seventh and eighth-graders on the south side of Chicago.

Michael is a member of the District of Columbia Public Schools School Climate Advisory Committee and Task Force in School Mental Health; the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s Mental and Behavioral Health Collaborative Working Group; and the steering committee of the Trauma-Informed Schools Learning Network.



Included in registration is access to best-in-the-field education innovators and tools for accelerating change in your school. Also included: 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and a reception. All other lodging and travel costs are the responsibility of the traveler.

IDEAL: Teams of 4: $2000

This is the ideal team size for the Accelerator. We encourage you to bring four team members from your school to work together during the conference. You are also getting the best ticket price at just $500 per person.

Teams of 3: $1800

If you can’t bring four team members, three is the next best option! You still get a discounted rate per ticket and will have the benefit of a true team experience at the conference.

Teams of 2: $1400

Teams of two can still make change happen. This option is discounted over the individual rate and you’ll have a partner to work with on designing and implementing your change ideas.

Individuals: $750

The Accelerator is designed to be a team experience; however, we know that’s not always possible. We will accommodate a limited number of individuals and will help curate your experience so you still get the most of the conference as possible.


Location and Lodging

We think that the most innovative space to inspire and engage in creative thinking about high school redesign is — a high school! The Accelerator itself will take place at recently renovated Northfield High School on the Paul Sandoval Campus.

Northfield High School on the Paul Sandoval Campus
5500 Central Park Blvd Denver, CO 80238

The modern campus is bright, inviting, and ready to welcome teams from all over the country.

Every high school brings a different budget and level of comfort. There are many lodging options within 10 miles of Northfield High School. We do not have a contracted hotel block, but have negotiated special rates with a few nearby hotels. Some of our favorite properties in the area include:

Drury Inn & Suites Denver Stapleton
4550 N Central Park Blvd, Denver, CO 80238
$154.99 per night, please make reservations on or before Tuesday May 21, 2019 in order to receive this special rate. 50 rooms available.
Group code: 2362595
(5 minutes from Northfield High School)

Residence Inn by Marriott Denver
4667 North Central Park Blvd, Denver, CO 80238
$204 per night for a Studio with 2 Queen Beds Room
Please make reservations on or before 4PM(MST) May 24, 2019 in order to receive this special rate. 20 rooms available.
Booking Link

Staybridge Suites Denver – Stapleton
8101 Northfield Blvd, Denver, CO 80238
(5 minutes from Northfield High School)

Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Stapleton
4444 Havana St, Denver, CO 80239
(6 minutes from Northfield High School)

Renaissance Denver Stapleton
3801 Quebec St, Denver, CO 80207
(10 minutes from Northfield High School)


Frequently Asked Questions

Why June 26-28?
It is the perfect planning time! Join us to create a plan for the 2019-2020 school-year.

Why teams? Can I come as an individual?
We all know that change sticks when we have partners in creation, implementation, and accountability. And isn’t your team awesome? Spend some time together in a new setting, surrounded by new ideas and expert coaching. Together, the acceleration will happen.

We can accommodate a limited number of individuals, but you do not receive discounted pricing. We encourage you to find teammates to join you!

Which track should I choose?
CEI has intentionally curated three tracks for teams to choose from. All team members will participate in the same track, together. This will allow you to go deep into one area rather than learn just a little about all three. There is limited capacity for each track, so don’t miss out on securing your spot today!

Our theory of change posits that schools need to attend to three practice areas to support High School Redesign. Each lever is described in brief below. Choose the track that you have the most interest in learning more about or that you want to grow in the most.

  • Rigor – The school is committed to ensuring that every student is challenged with a rigorous educational program
  • Relevance – The school is committed to ensuring that every student’s educational program is relevant and meaningful for them
  • Social Emotional Learning – The school is built upon a foundation that supports the social and emotional development of every student

If you still have questions about which track to choose please contact Jackie Brauhn,, and we’ll help you decide!

Why no designated hotel? How do we get around?
We think that the most innovative space to inspire and engage create thinking about high school redesign is a high school! So, the Accelerator itself will take place at recently renovated Northfield High School on the Paul Sandoval Campus. And knowing that schools have all all different budgets and comfort levels, we’re leaving the lodging decisions up to you. We have a few recommended places we love but no contracted room block.

Northfield High School is a 17-mile drive (23 minutes) from Denver International Airport. We encourage teams to rent a car. There is limited public transportation in the area. The closest RTD (rail) station is Central Park (about 10 minutes away).

Drury Inn & Suites Denver Stapleton
4550 N Central Park Blvd, Denver, CO 80238
$154.99 per night, please make reservations on or before Tuesday May 21, 2019 in order to receive this special rate.
Group code: 2362595
(5 minutes from Northfield High School)

Residence Inn by Marriott Denver
4667 North Central Park Blvd, Denver, CO 80238
$204 per night for a Studio with 2 Queen Beds Room
Please make reservations on or before 4PM(MST) May 24, 2019 in order to receive this special rate. 20 rooms available
Booking Link

Staybridge Suites Denver – Stapleton
8101 Northfield Blvd, Denver, CO 80238
(5 minutes from Northfield High School)

Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Stapleton
4444 Havana St, Denver, CO 80239
(6 minutes from Northfield High School)

Renaissance Denver Stapleton
3801 Quebec St, Denver, CO 80207
(10 minutes from Northfield High School)

What happened to Showcase?
Historically, CEI has hosted an annual conference where we showcased the work and progress of our partners across various projects. Since shifting to our new strategy, we’ve also shifted our conference. There will be no Showcase in 2019. Instead, we’ve designed the High School Resdesign Accelerator to support

Will there be teams from outside of Colorado?
Yes! We are excited to expand our invitation to the Accelerator to school teams both within and outside of Colorado. There are no other conferences dedicated to this topic in our region and we want teams from across the country to be able to bring their perspectives to Colorado. As you can see, we’ve designed the conference to bring the experts to you. We have nationally-recognized experts in high school redesign who will be speaking and coaching teams at the Accelerator

I’m interested in sponsoring the Accelerator. Can I?
Yes. We have sponsorship opportunities available. Please contact Liz Kuehl,, for more information.