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Jesse Olsen of Validus Prep featured in Fast Company article

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    Ben Smith

Two and a half years ago, in response to increased demand for data on students at his New York City public school, Validus Preparatory Academy's Jesse Olsen turned entrepreneur. Olsen, a math teacher at the Bronx high school, one of New York City Outward Bound's 10 Expeditionary Learning schools in the City, became frustrated by an inability to accurately record students' attendance. Drawing on his college computer science training, he created an online system that today, is tracking not only attendance, but also grades and behavior--class by class.

Called IMPACT, the program has on online attendance system that is able to update in real time and gives teachers the ability to add comments on students' behavior. IMPACT also has an online grade book that shows how students do on individual assignments, how well they have mastered specific skills and what work they need to complete.

"Most grading tools are designed as simple accountability systems," says Olsen. "With IMPACT, our goal is to gather meaningful data on what students know, not just what they've done. Being at Validus, and participating in the amazing work being done there inspired me to create a better way to reflect the day-to-day accomplishments of the school. I don't think IMPACT would exist today had I not been teaching there."

"Being at Validus, and participating in the amazing work being done there inspired me to create a better way to reflect the day-to-day accomplishments of the school." Jesse Olsen Creator of IMPACT and math teacher at Validus Preparatory Academy

Olsen, a Teach for America (TFA) alumnus (class of 2006), spent two years at Validus with the program and has been there ever since. In the December/January issue of Fast Company, TFA, now in its 20th year, profiles him and 18 other TFA graduates it has identified as its “most influential alumni” to date.

IMPACT is gaining traction among school administrators--the system is in use at 21 public district and charter schools in New York City, including eight of NYC Outward Bound’s 10 schools. A school in Rhode Island and one in Arizona are also using IMPACT--a very preliminary “proof of concept” that the system can be adapted elsewhere. Each school pays a small fee per student for a year of service, training and support. TFA also recently adopted the system to track how some of its members’ students perform. About 500 TFA teachers are working with IMPACT.

According to Validus principal Brady Smith, IMPACT has been a boon to the school. “The system is designed to provide teachers and administrators with the data they need right when they need it. It supports authentic grading--which is focused on increasing student learning rather than simply reporting on that learning, Learning Expedition design, character education and the other essential elements of our Expeditionary Learning curriculum. IMPACT today has evolved in response to teacher feedback, and as a result, it is thoughtful and easy to use.”

“The system is designed to provide teachers and administrators with the data they need right when they need it." Brady Smith Validus Preparatory Academy Principal

New York City Outward Bound launched Validus Preparatory Academy in partnership with the NYC Department of Education in September 2005. With its motto “Strong Mind, Strong Body”, Validus (Latin for strength) offers a college preparatory curriculum enhanced by a focus on health-related issues particularly relevant to students. Located in the poorest congressional district in the country, Validus serves a very high needs 9-12 grade population. This past school year, the school celebrated an 85% four-year graduation rate with 83% of graduates going on to college.

About New York City Outward Bound:

Now in its third decade in the City, New York City Outward Bound is an independent non-profit organization that brings the educational philosophy and expertise of Outward Bound to New York City’s public schools. Since 1987, NYC Outward Bound has served more than 50,000 students and educators from more than 250 public schools. For most participants, involvement with NYC Outward Bound has resulted in profound learning and for many it has been transformational, helping them to recognize how much they are capable of accomplishing individually and collectively. In 2004, while continuing to provide customized teambuilding and leadership programs for schools throughout the City, the organization undertook its most ambitious venture-- to build and operate a network of small schools, in partnership with the City’s Department of Education, incorporating the Expeditionary Learning school model which has its roots in Outward Bound’s educational principles and practices. These schools provide demanding academics, real-world learning, 21st-century skill-building, character development and the support of a caring peer and adult community to foster high levels of student achievement.

With initial help from grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, New York City Outward Bound’s schools are: Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, Bronx Expeditionary Learning High School, Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders, The James Baldwin Academy, Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School, Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, McCown Expeditionary Learning School, The Validus Preparatory Academy and Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School. In September the organization opened its 10th school--Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School--in Queens, making it the first NYC Department of Education partner to have opened schools in all five boroughs. There are currently more than 160 Expeditionary Learning schools in the country. For further information, visit the NYC Outward Bound website.