Carnegie Learning Leadership Network District Teams See Innovative High School Models in Action in Phoenix Union High School District

“The [Phoenix Union site visit] experience was wonderful, and I found it quite valuable…I left inspired and ready to implement change in my own district.” — Carnegie LLN Site Visit Participant

In early October, Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) hosted participants of the Carnegie Learning Leadership Network (Carnegie LLN) to reimagine high schools and move beyond time-based models of learning like the Carnegie Unit. The focus of the network, which is part of the Foundation’s larger Future of Learning portfolio, is to support, showcase, and study systems that are creating engaging, equitable, and effective learning experiences for secondary students. Phoenix Union was chosen as the first site visit location to study the innovative models in PXU’s portfolio of schools—including PXU City, Metro Tech High School, Bioscience High School, Camelback High School, and Phoenix Coding Academy

Carnegie Learning Leadership Network, Helios Education Foundation, Phoenix

Phoenix Union Site Visit Activities

During the two and a half day visit, Carnegie LLN district teams engaged in a variety of learning activities such as site visits to five different high school campuses, Q&As with student panels, a conversation with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, and engaging discussions with PXU’s executive leadership team, and more. Carnegie LLN members also participated in a guided learning session in the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence to visualize data and evidence around the impact of various policies, potential solutions, and factors on education outcomes in Phoenix. Afterward, district teams reflected on their observations to make sense of lessons learned to apply to their own data collection and synthesis processes. The site visit successfully met the goal of promoting mutual learning across Carnegie LLN districts. Visiting districts learned from a deep dive into PXU’s secondary school transformation work, and PXU received valuable feedback on their own priority of scaling their successful innovative student learning models to their comprehensive high schools.

Devin Vodicka Carnegie LLN Site Visit Tweet

Lessons Learned

Here are a few key learnings from the Carnegie LLN site visit at Phoenix Union: 

  1.  The high school schedule can be re-imagined to prioritize student agency and choice. At PXU City, which offers students the only flexible scheduling model in the state of Arizona, students partner with their counselors to create a schedule that fits their needs. Students are afforded opportunities to take classes and earn course credits both in person and online at a variety of campuses. This flexible scheduling framework allows students to take rigorous courses, engage in internships, earn course credits for work experiences, and balance family and personal obligations without impacting their academics.
  2. We must understand the system that is producing variation in student outcomes. Systemic data infrastructures and thoughtful partnerships as displayed by the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence provide districts with critical access to real-time data visualizations. Data dashboards, whether simple or more complex like the Decision Theater, can create meaningful learning opportunities for multiple stakeholders, including district leads, principals, teachers, parents, students, and community partners to reflect, compare, and discuss trends and outliers in the data that offer potential ideas for change.
  3. Learning experiences that are relevant, experiential, and career-aligned can be a powerful source of engagement for students and a pathway to multiple post-secondary opportunities. For example, at Metro Tech High School, students can choose between 19 distinct Career and Technical Education (CTE)  programs, such as Nursing, Business Management and Administrative Support, Culinary Arts, Digital Filmmaking, and Software Development to name a few. These programs provide students with a variety of hands-on learning and leadership experiences to build their professional portfolios. For instance, in the floral CTE program, students oversee the daily operations of a school-based floral shop, providing a variety of products to school and community members while learning key skills for running a small business.

Carnegie Learning Leadership Network, Metro Tech High School, Phoenix Union High Schoo District

Gratitude & Upcoming Activities

The Carnegie team is grateful to Superintendent Gestson and the entire PXU team for hosting the inaugural Carnegie LLN site visit. Dr. Gestson and his team thoughtfully created a deeply meaningful learning experience for participants by engaging district leaders, principals, and most notably, enthusiastic and capable PXU students.

The Carnegie LLN will have the opportunity to reconvene in March for a spring site visit hosted by a different district in the network. Until then, network members will be supported by Carnegie through check-in calls, virtual improvement science training opportunities, peer consultancies, and Pathfinders Forums which expose members to exciting new ideas that can inform their work toward system transformation.

Janice Jackson Carnegie LLN Site Visit Tweet

The purpose of the Carnegie Learning Leadership Network (Carnegie LLN) is to support secondary school transformation in the United States. The Network was established to support, showcase, and study systems that are creating engaging, equitable, and effective learning experiences for their secondary students. Carnegie LLN district members include: Akron Public Schools, Baltimore City Public Schools, Battle Creek Public Schools, Dallas Independent School District, Guilford County Schools, Northern Humboldt Union High School District, Oakland Unified School District, Phoenix Union High School District, Sacramento City Unified School District, School District of Lee County, Tulsa Public Schools. 

The Carnegie Learning Leadership Network is supported by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the XQ Institute. 

Please direct any inquiries about the Carnegie Learning Leadership Network to Dr. Simone Palmer ( and David Sherer (