Q&A with Malika Ali

1. Describe the work you’ll be doing with Highlander Institute:
As an Educational Strategies Specialist, I will be collaborating on project implementation and coaching support for Fuse Architect schools.
2. What’s your background?
Most recently, I was an innovation specialist for academic programs for the Providence Public School District. Prior to that, I was a founding science teacher at one of Rhode Island’s first blended learning high schools where I learned a great deal about the opportunities and challenges associated with school-wide and network-wide implementation. And in another life I was involved in public health/biology research. I’ve lived in Rhode Island for 13 years but was born and raised in Oklahoma where my parents immigrated to from Eritrea.
3. What are you most looking forward to with this new position?
I believe the most important lever of change is at the classroom level so I’m really looking forward to getting back into schools and working with teachers and school teams to put their plans into action.
4. What’s your self professed super-power?
I can easily make chocolate disappear
5. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
My people invented coffee. You’re welcome.

Q&A with Vera De Jesus

Describe the work you’ll be doing with Highlander Institute:
As an Educational Strategies Specialist, I support teachers and school leaders in achieving their blended and personalized learning goals.


What’s your background?
Most recently, I taught 8th grade math at a public charter school in Central Falls, where I was previously an AmeriCorps Education Fellow. In between the fellowship and teaching, I pursued my MAT at Brown University. Prior to starting a career in education, I studied journalism and psychology in Boston and worked in corporate communications.


What are you most looking forward to with this new position?
I’m really looking forward to collaborating with educators across Rhode Island as we work together to create classroom experiences that serve and engage all learners. I’m excited to be working with passionate people who truly believe in educational equity, and I’m eager to learn from my new team!


What’s your self professed super-power?
I can describe food with impeccable precision.


Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
 Nothing in mind right now, but feel free to strike up a conversation anytime!

International Workers Day

education is a human right 2

International Worker’s Day

Today – and every day – we stand up proudly and in solidarity for the working families of the students we serve.

May Day has always been tied to immigrant communities because of the population’s contributions to the US economy. In Providence alone, 25 % of our student population are English language learners.

At Highlander Institute, we understand the challenge of our district partners to serve and serve well our rapidly changing, diverse student population. We believe in the power of our teachers, students and families to honor these diverse backgrounds in order to create a more globally-minded community. Our immigrant roots as a city and state are vital to our community’s success.

This year, we support International Worker’s Day. We are committed to an equitable education system that meets the needs all students. Our work is based on creating opportunities for students to reach their full potential despite socioeconomic barriers. We share this vision for all communities and our country. The communities and students we serve are achieving great things!

Join us today at Burnside Park to celebrate working class solidarity. For more information on locally sponsored events, check out this page.

International Women's Day/A Day Without A Woman

On March 8, 2017, Highlander Institute is working in limited capacity due to our support and participation in the Day Without A Women/ International Women’s Strike.


This day is a recognition of the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system — and the pervasive and systemic gender-based inequalities that still exist within our society, from the wage gap, to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.


In education, women face persistent wage differentials. Varied concentrations of women in leadership roles across schools and districts have resulted in earnings that are consistently 20% lower than that of men in the educational sector. In higher education especially, women accounted for just 26% of college presidencies, with people of color accounting for only 14%.  


This differential plays out in many forms- what is valued, taught and measured within the educational system is directly tied to power and privilege.  


We work each day to create equitable, just educational systems that meet the needs of all students in this complex world.  To this end, educational systems must be representative of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and orientations at all roles of leadership.  We believe that you can’t be what you can’t see.
We realize that as a nonprofit organization, we have tremendous privilege in terms of scheduling and supporting events like today. Women across many sectors (including education) and those in our most vulnerable communities will not have the ability to join the strike today.


We strike for them.

Q&A With Nick Vockerodt

Meet the newest member of our team, Nick Vockerodt!


Describe the work you’ll be doing with Highlander: 

I am joining Highlander as the Research and Evaluation Analyst. I will be working in the office of the Director of Data and Analytics, helping to build instruments that will ease the process of data collection, synthesis and reporting for new and ongoing projects at the Institute.

What’s your background? 

I have worked in schools almost entirely since 2007, with time spent as the founding Director of a 21st CCLC program, teachers assistant and middle school teacher. Somewhere in those years I earned a masters in urban education policy and have also worked freelance on a number of education related projects at the school, state and district level.

What are you most looking forward to with this new position?

There are a lot of great things happening in Rhode Island schools, and there is more that we can learn about from other places. I really look forward to turning information we gather into useful tools that help students and teachers. I am also really excited about the idea of including local and regional partners as full-time members in our public K-12 experience and developing processes that can improve their impact on the outcomes of students, schools and communities.

What’s your self professed superpower?

I can disappear and reappear.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

Too many! Its busy out there.

Join Us at Delsie Gives Back


Delsie Catering and Events is hosting a party for Highlander Institute on Mondaynight!  Please join us at the Alex and Ani store at Chapel View in Cranston. Come sample the winter menu and purchase holiday gifts. Fifteen percent of all proceeds will be donated to Highlander Institute.  A huge thank you to Delsie Catering and Events for the support.


We Have Lift-off!

Ah Summer! What could be better than relaxing on the beach, searching for Pokemon, and reflecting on the 2015-2016 school year.  We had time to review new research in the field of blended and personalized learning, and organize best practices related to professional development. We are always pushing ourselves to get better at what we do, and we are dedicated to partnering with teachers to improve the impact of classroom instruction. Much of our summer work focused on teachers and how we might better match our coaching approach to individual teacher needs.  

Through our work, we understand that the teachers we coach may be in very different places, and at varying states of readiness in regard to implementing blended learning. Just as with students, a ‘one size fits all’ approach leaves some teachers behind. With that in mind, at the Highlander Institute, we design our professional development and coaching models to include scaffolded and differentiated adult learning opportunities. This is where coaching model comes in.  We want to share this approach with you all, as our commitment and belief in open source materials drives us to create systems in partnership with teachers, district administrators, community organizations and students alike. Check it out here!

In the early stages of coaching, especially with teachers new to blended and personalized instructional approaches, we work hard to develop relationships and employ a gradual release model. We begin by providing context for the work, including a close look at effective blended classrooms. Seeing the power of blended and personalized learning firsthand is one of the best catalysts we’ve found for motivating newcomers. Once teachers develop a mindset for this work and have a willingness to move forward, we implement a co-plan/co-teach model.

We join the teacher in thinking through components of a blended classroom, highlighting teacher-specific strengths and challenges. We are there to share classroom responsibilities, troubleshoot technology problems, and act as thought partners as teachers roll out their first blended and personalized lessons. As teachers become more comfortable with this approach, a specific plan is followed to transfer the management of the classroom back to the teacher. Once the teacher is managing all aspects of a blended model we shift our work to focus exclusively on coaching through an observation and feedback loop.   

This is going to be a big year for the teachers we partner with as they embrace a new model of teaching and learning. As we develop systems for classroom and district change-making, we invite you all to let us know what you think!  


Kara O’Connell  is the Director of Implementation at the Highlander Institute.  She manages a team of Educational Strategies Specialists that deliver coaching and consulting services in Rhode Island and beyond. To see more of our work, follow Kara on Twitter @KaraLOConnell

Join us at Startup Weekend Education Providence – Free Tickets!


Join us at the first ever Startup Weekend Education in Providence, RI on September 23-25! Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) is a 54-hour action-oriented weekend that brings together educators + students+ designers + developers to tackle a problem in education and build a solution. The theme for this event is Culturally Relevant Content.

Thanks to the generous support of Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, tickets for SWEDU are FREE! To register, go to www.providenceswedu.com and enter the promo code SWEDUFREE. Limited spots are available so be sure to grab your ticket soon!


In addition to participants, coaches are coming in from all over the country to guide teams in building viable solutions! Here's a glimpse of some of the coaches attending:

katrina_stevensKatrina Stevens

Deputy Director of the Office of EdTech, U.S. Department of Education

ash_kAsh Kaluarachchi

Co-Founder, StartEd Accelerator

heather_towyickHeather Tow-Yick

Chief Transformation Office, Providence Public School District

Have more questions? Check out our FAQs or send an email to rlakhi@highlanderinstitute.org.

We hope to see you on September 23rd!

Highlander Institute Receives Multi-Year Funding to Expand Programs

In an exciting development for the RI educational landscape, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $1.78M grant to Highlander Institute for the expansion of Fuse RI and the EdTechRI Testbed.

Launched in 2014 to “ignite education through blended learning”, Fuse RI is a no-cost solution for districts interested in leveraging technology to personalize learning for all students. This shift is critical to preparing students for success in our fast-changing world. The two-year project recruits educator talent across the state as Fuse Fellows, who are paired with Fuse Partner Districts to develop model classrooms, policy, systems, resources and professional development.

Fuse RI is the brainchild of Shawn Rubin, Highlander Institute’s Chief Education Officer. Over the past two years, Fuse RI has trained 34 Fellows to work in 18 districts, developing an interconnected web of professional learning, data and structured change management to over half of RI.

“Blended learning is gaining momentum in public schools across the country as a way to deliver instruction that is personalized while empowering the development of 21st century skills. At its core, blended learning combines excellent teacher instruction with quality education technology tools that enables some element of student control over time, place, path, and / or pace,” says Rubin.

The EdTechRI Testbed will train and support approximately 40 teachers across 12 schools in the Providence Public School Department, studying the impact of math and reading software and personalized learning platforms A goal of this project is to help educators become more informed consumers in this digital age, giving them the tools to determine whether a particular technology product is the right fit in their classroom. “School districts rarely have the time, funding or expertise to conduct these studies,” says Cameron Berube, PPSD’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “Schools and districts are left making decisions on products based on anecdotal information.”

Under the terms of the grant, the Highlander Institute will support eight new Fuse Partner Districts for two years through the mobilization of 27 new Fuse Fellows. “All project processes, systems and resources will continue to be made open source to support wide scale replication of our work in interested cities and states”, says Dana Borrelli-Murray, Highlander Institute’s Executive Director. “And with each year’s success, we anticipate national interest in this homegrown model, further showcasing RI as the country’s leader in blended and personalized learning.”

“As part of the first cohort of Fuse Fellows we were asked to push ourselves, challenge our thinking, create our own learning and widely share this with others. This has been the best professional learning experience I have ever had, and I have no doubt that we have — and will continue to make a difference in Rhode Island.” Tracey Nangle, Teacher, North Smithfield Middle School, Cohort 1 Fellow.

Remarks from Fuse Fest

On June 9, 2016, Highlander Institute hosted Fuse Fest, an event to celebrate the “graduation” of our inaugural cohort of Fuse RI Fellows and Partner Districts. We asked Tracey Nangle, a middle school teacher from North Smithfield and Cohort 1 Fellow partnered with Central Falls to give the keynote address. Thank you Tracey for a wonderful speech, and thank you again to all Cohort 1 Fellows and Districts who have contributed so much to the evolution of this Fellowship!

Here are Tracey’s remarks:

We made it! Two years of what can only be described as organized chaos has led us here…And it feels pretty good, am I right?

For some reason we all agreed to this! And it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was recruited by Eric Butash. Eric was determined that someone from my district and his former district, North Smithfield, would become a Fuse Fellow and as we all know – Eric can be very persuasive when he wants to be! I, and all of you, had a love for technology and we were using some in the classroom so why not apply and see what would happen?

We all showed up at those summer interviews in Highlander Institute’s furnace of an office, only to be led to the third floor where it was even hotter. There we all sat, trying to ignore the fact that we were dripping with sweat while we attempted to answer questions intelligently. Apparently, we can think while sweating because we all made it through and were chosen as the very first Fuse Fellow Cohort.

We came together for our summer boot camp two years ago not knowing each other and not truly understanding what the fellowship would entail, but intrigued and energized by this eclectic group of people at Highlander Institute. As it turned out, we all made a very wise decision when we accepted their offer of a two-year fellowship.

That first week of training had all of us questioning what we had gotten ourselves into. Information flew at us at a fast and furious rate! I was very happy to have people sitting next to me whispering helpful remarks to me as often as I was whispering helpful information to them! It was confusing, fascinating, challenging, took many of us way out of our comfort zones, and ultimately, a really fun experience.

We left that training with our heads spinning and strangely, more excited than ever. We had met some really interesting cohort members, been reassured by the fact that these Highlander people really did know a thing or two about blended learning, and with a more complete picture of what it was that Highlander Institute was trying to accomplish – not a clear picture by any means, but we had been given a glimpse into the huge topic of blended learning and a sense of how much learning we all had to do.

All along the way we have been asked to push ourselves, to challenge each other and our own thinking, to create our own learning and to share that with others, and also to give our opinions and feedback about our learning. All of that has combined to make this the best professional learning experience I have ever had. The description I just gave of what we were asked to do is what all of us want to create in our own classrooms every day. That is authentic, meaningful, and lasting learning. The people at Highlander Institute may have been creating this fellowship as we were experiencing it, but they have created a remarkable model that will only become better with time. Time and time again I have been blown away by their passion, their responsiveness to our feedback, their level of commitment to excellence in education, and how very nice all of them are. We could not have asked for a more knowledgeable or admirable group of mentors.

The essence of this experience for me however, has been all of you – my fellow Fellows of Cohort 1. What a gift it has been to meet people who share my interests and who possess such tremendous talent. You are all so generous in sharing what you know and are able to do. There was always someone to turn to and I knew that if I sent out a call to the Fellows, someone, and usually many more than one, would respond with really useful information and advice. Over the last two years I have sometimes felt like I was in over my head but I never felt alone. For that I thank all of you. A special thank you to Simona, my awesome partner. Working with you and the Central Falls school district was really rewarding; when one of us zigged, the other one zagged and we got it all done!

There is something special about being the first. It could have something to do with the fact that we were the guinea pigs in this experiment! Having suffered through this together has made us an entity unto ourselves. We’re good together and there is value in maintaining our connections and sharing our ideas and challenges as we move forward.

We have and will continue to make a difference in Rhode Island. We’re ready. Congratulations to all of us on a job well done and thank you to our wonderful mentors at Highlander Institute.