Reflections from One Year of the Carnegie Learning Leadership Network 

“I feel good knowing there is a community of folks from around the country who are facing similar problems in their schools. The opportunity to hear their stories and have open dialogue and share resources has been invaluable.” —Northern Humboldt Union High School District Leader

In late June, members of the Carnegie Learning Leadership Network (Carnegie LLN) convened at the Carnegie Foundation in Palo Alto to reflect on the network’s one-year anniversary and lay the groundwork for the year ahead. 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. The ten school district teams that make up the Carnegie LLN are working to transform their secondary school systems so that all students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful secondary school learning experiences.

One Year of the Carnegie LLN

The annual summer convening in Palo Alto marked an important milestone – the end of the first year of the network and the start of the second year for this national community of innovative district leaders. This past year, district teams were formed and identified a priority area of focus for their system transformation work. Throughout the year, Carnegie LLN members have engaged in a myriad of learning opportunities, including a site visit to Phoenix Union High School District, virtual pathfinders forums featuring leading innovators in education, improvement science trainings, and bimonthly Carnegie check-in calls in which district teams received customized support to make progress on their system transformation priority. Network members’ engagement with experts as well as with their peers through cross-network learning helped catalyze progress in their areas of focus.  One participant expressed their appreciation for the network, saying, “I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of this network, both as an individual professional and for my entire team and the students we serve.”

Network Convening Activities

In June, 2023, Carnegie LLN team members gathered together to reflect on their teams’ journeys and to share progress on their system transformation work as it relates to middle school student success, personalized student experiences, stakeholder engagement, and more. Throughout the convening, network members shared stories and insights, grappled with key dilemmas, and planned for the year ahead. Additionally, participants heard from engaging guest speakers, Dr. Pamela Cantor, founder and senior science advisor at the Center for Whole-Child Education, and Antero Garcia, associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education. From team presentations and peer consultancies to protected team time and action planning periods, Carnegie LLN members celebrated the end of the convening with a renewed sense of focus, clarity, and community. In particular, the peer consultancies provided network members with a unique opportunity to engage and learn from districts facing similar challenges in their contexts. As such, the peer consultancies allowed teams to share practical insights with one another and, in turn, the consultancies served as a vital tool for driving progress.

“The June convening was valuable because we were afforded uninterrupted time to work closely with our team on our priorities for system transformation.”

—Tulsa Public Schools District Leader

Team Progress

Each Carnegie LLN district team is focused on creating innovative learning designs and supports for their secondary students. Below are some examples of how a few Carnegie LLN district teams have chosen to focus their efforts this past year:

Creating Personalized Learning Pathways and Student Experiences 

The Guilford County Schools team, under the leadership of the new superintendent, Dr. Whitney Oakley, has conducted a comprehensive survey and collected data from a wide array of community stakeholders to inform the design of their new Better Together Strategic Priorities and the groundwork for refining their district graduate profile.

On their way to developing a district-wide portrait of a graduate, the School District of Lee County has engaged various stakeholders to ensure their perspectives are represented, asking questions such as “What skills do you want to see in your future employees?,” collecting data, and developing emerging stakeholder themes around resiliency, career options, and academic readiness. 

Supporting High School Readiness and Middle School Success

The Battle Creek Public Schools team has leaned into student agency and the student experience as important levers to improve student academic performance in middle school. The team is working hard to leverage a robust advisory program that will develop student efficacy so students can understand their own progress and learning in preparation for high school and beyond. The team is also focused on building strong adult-student relationships.

The team at Akron Public Schools is working intently on creating guaranteed student experiences that prepare middle school students for high school, paving the way for them to explore career pathways and serve their communities. Keeping their focus on building student agency, Akron is examining and shifting how the district supports schools to be able to meet the needs of every student.

Lessons Learned 

After one year of the Carnegie LLN, here are a few key lessons learned by the network:

  • Systems transformation requires commitment, resilience, and determination from leaders. District teams have demonstrated remarkable resilience and determination through a range of challenges such as leadership transitions, natural disasters, and political barriers. By centering their efforts on what is in their locus of control and continuing to  prioritize this body of work, district teams have maintained a laser focus on the transformational changes they are spearheading.
  • Improvement science tools and principles provide a structured path for the work ahead. Carnegie LLN members have co-developed a network theory of improvement that encompasses the high-leverage drivers and aligned measures that teams will pursue in the coming school year. This visual representation of the network’s work reflects the strong commitment from district teams to transform teaching and learning in their secondary schools. Further, LLN district teams continue to deepen their improvement science capacity by participating in improvement science trainings, using improvement tools to guide problem investigation and process measures, and relying on improvement mindsets and dispositions to see what works, for whom, and under what conditions.
  • We can do more together than we can alone. Carnegie LLN members value the unique opportunity afforded to them in this network. They are learning from like-minded districts across the country that are intent on redesigning their secondary school systems. Additionally, cross-network partnerships provide valuable learning opportunities for peer consultancies, reflection, and inspiration to move the work forward.

“It is my hope [in this network] to continue learning strategies for identifying and eradicating barriers faced by our district and effectively implementing structural change that supports the strategic direction and ensures the success of all students.”

—Guilford County Schools District Leader

Gratitude and What’s Next 

Network members will have the opportunity to reconvene in-person in October for a site visit to Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, North Carolina to learn how the leadership team enlists support from a cross-section of community members. Until then, district teams will continue to be supported by Carnegie through check-in calls and virtual activities.

The Carnegie Foundation team is grateful for the opportunity to work closely with members of the Carnegie LLN. We celebrate the achievements district teams have made throughout the first year of this network, and we look forward to their continued success in the coming year. 

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 Tinkhani White at