Building a Portfolio of Options to Ensure All Students Graduate

Building a Portfolio of Options to Ensure All Students Graduate
Building a Portfolio of Options to Ensure All Students Graduate



This forum highlighted the work of the Association for High School Innovation (AHSI), a collaboration of education providers and advocates that works to create pathways and expand options to future success for all youth. Over the past seven years, AHSI members have engaged in a variety of efforts at the state and local level to create and sustain the development of education options to ensure all students graduate.  Presenters will share lessons learned from their work along with implications for policy.

The Association for High School Innovation (AHSI) is a network of youth development organizations with over 290 sites nationwide committed to creating educational opportunities for young people for whom traditional school settings have not been successful. Currently AHSI is working to:

  • Expand the number of high quality pathways to graduation and post-high school success nationwide by opening new, high quality high schools and partnering with communities and schools locally and statewide to create innovative options within existing systems;
  • Use the AHSI Distinguishers and AHSI Policy Conditions to analyze characteristics of the environment (e.g., laws, policies, and regulations) that affect the sustainability of innovative schools and programs;
  • Engage with community-wide partners, municipal leaders, higher education institutions, school districts, State Education Agencies, and others, to develop a wide range of high quality pathways to graduation; AHSI Partnerships in Indianapolis, IN; Nashville, TN; and Newark, NJ are demonstrating the potential for this strategy to succeed in other localities committed to educating all youth;
  • Cultivate a community of practice for knowledge development that fosters exchanges of information on effective interventions, educational tools and instruments, strategies for managing networks of schools and programs, and curriculum/school design; and
  • Promote evidence-based practices and accountability for student success by improving the use of data, research, and evaluation to assess longitudinal student outcomes, improve school and program results, and otherwise measure progress toward consistently delivering high quality programs and services.


The forum featured presentations from two AHSI member organizations, Big Picture Learning and Gateway to College National Network, as well as a representative of the Newark-AHSI Partnership, one of three collaborative efforts involving each city’s Mayor, Superintendent of Schools, higher education institutions, other local education stakeholders, and AHSI.

Big Picture Learning’s mission is to lead vital changes in education, both in the United States and internationally, by generating and sustaining innovative, personalized schools that work in tandem with the real world of the greater community. We believe that in order to sustain successful schools where authentic and relevant learning takes place, we must continually innovate techniques and test learning tools to make our schools better and more rigorous. Lastly, we believe that in order to create and influence the schools of the future, we must use the lessons learned through our practice and research to give us added leverage to impact changes in public policy. With over sixty schools in the United States and partnering organizations supporting numerous Big Picture schools abroad – Big Picture Learning is truly a global community.

Gateway to College National Network is a national nonprofit organization that’s tackling the dropout crisis and catalyzing change across developmental education in college. Our strategies include:

  • Creating and replicating innovative programs  such as Gateway to College helps high school dropouts (ages 16-21) and students on the verge of dropping out to earn a high school diploma while also earning college credits and Project DEgree helps underprepared college students (ages 18-26) accelerate their progress through developmental education and on to transfer-level college courses.
  • Building partnerships that connect K-12 and higher education institutions and communities
  • Influencing systems by creating change agents who are transforming instruction and student support practices from the inside out
  • Conducting research and sharing what we know about successfully serving high school dropouts and academically underprepared college students
  • Helping effect policy and regulatory changes to ensure that Gateway to College and other alternative education models are available in every community that needs them
  • Providing customized consulting services to colleges and school districts

In addition, the panel featured a district-level leader from Newark, Nashville, or Indianapolis discussing the role that AHSI played in helping the school district create a portfolio of options for both in-school and out-of-school youth.



Talmira Hill has served as Director of the Alternative High School Initiative – now the Association for High School Innovation – since December 2007, providing leadership for the network through its launch of a new enterprise.  Talmira began working with AHSI in January 2005 as a consultant to the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.  In this role, she facilitated AHSI’s policy efforts and authored Setting the Stage for New High Schools: Municipal Leadership in Supporting High School Alternatives (2007).  In addition to serving as AHSI Director, Talmira is Principal of the T. L. Hill Group, an independent firm she founded in May 2001 that designs innovative, partnership-driven initiatives to improve education, workforce development, and youth development outcomes in low-income and underrepresented communities.  Talmira was a program officer with the Annie E. Casey Foundation from 1995-2001, where she initiated investments to improve results among young adults making critical transitions in life. Prior to joining the foundation, Talmira served as a Special Assistant to the Under Secretary in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration.  She began her career in international economic development as an intern with Africare and considers her years living and working in Senegal, West Africa as critically significant in shaping her perspectives.  Talmira earned a Master of Education degree from Harvard University in 1990 and a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University in 1986.  Talmira is a dance and yoga enthusiast, avid reader, writer of poetry, and most recently a novice cross-country skier.  You may email her at


Nick Mathern is the Associate Vice-President for Policy and Partnership Development for Gateway to College National Network. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is responsible for the recruitment and selection of partner colleges for the growing network. Nick provides consultation, training, and technical assistance to administrators of colleges, school districts, and community partners to create dual-credit programs for young people who have left school without a diploma. His focus has been to craft partnerships and creative solutions in order to decrease institutional barriers for struggling students trying to transition to college. Nick has helped colleges and school districts work with state education agencies in order to develop strategies for sustainable funding of college-based, high school completion programs and increased student services for developmental education students.

Nick’s work is informed by a variety of educational experiences, ranging from teaching pre-K to adult learners. He has taught in an alternative high school, taught English Language Learners, facilitated a community-based intercultural language exchange, co-created a violence prevention curriculum for boys and taught domestic-violence intervention classes for adjudicated men. Nick began his career in social services, providing assistance to families facing addiction, abuse, poverty and homelessness. If he ever holds another job which includes extended summer vacations, he will return to his position of volunteer art teacher and muralist.


Dr. Vincent L. Mays began his 24 -year career in education as a 6th grade teacher of basic skills with Irvington Public Schools. He currently serves as the Director of Alternative Education for Newark Public Schools. Dr. Mays joined Newark Public schools in 1999 where he spearheaded the formation of the Alternative Education program for the District.  These innovative educational programs have had a positive impact on the lives of more than 8000 young people in both the high school and middle school programs.

Today, Dr. Mays sits as facilitator of the states’ largest of alternative education programs. He played a key role in opening the Youth Education and Employment Success (YE2S) Center.  The YE2S Center, opened in early 2008, is collaboration among the City of Newark, Essex County Probation, the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, Communities In Schools of New Jersey, Rutgers University, The Nicholson Foundation, and numerous community-based organizations.  It was conceived as a one-stop resource for serving Newark’s at-risk youth.In addition to the YE2S Center, a number of alternative school options have been implemented with Dr. Mays’s leadership. The Newark Workforce Development Institute (NWDI) was established to reengage dropouts who could benefit from an educational program with a strong employment focus.  The Virtual High School commenced enrolling students in the fall of 2008.  It allows students to use distance learning to complete courses that satisfy all or part of their high school course requirements.  This program is particularly appropriate for youth with medical or mental health problems and for those who dropped out to care for their children, go to work, or because they were incarcerated.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Dr. Mays’s office with the Alternative High School Initiative (ASHI) Grant. Through this grant, AHSI and its network of experts are providing technical assistance to enhance Newark’s efforts to create or redesign high schools patterned after evidence-based, high-quality models that help disconnected youth prepare for college and career success.  These ASHI-assisted schools; Big Picture, Diploma Plus, Gateway to College, and Performance Learning Center (PLC) is scheduled to open in 2009.

Dr. Mays has served in many roles including: Director of Gateway Academy Alternative High School, Newark, New Jersey; Principal of Orange Alternative High School, Orange Public Schools, Orange, New Jersey; Assistant Principal at Florence Avenue School, Staff Development Specialist, Irvington Board of Education; and Elementary Education Teacher, at Madison Avenue School in Irvington, New Jersey.

In addition, Dr. Mays also served on the university level as a Recruiter for Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.  Dr. Mays received his Doctor of Philosophy, Administration and Supervision Stamford Hill University; his Master of Arts Degree, Montclair University in Educational Administration and Supervision; and his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication, Seton Hall University.



Elliot Washor, Ed. D. is the co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning in Providence, Rhode Island. He is also the co-founder of The Met Center in Providence, RI.

Elliot has been involved in school reform for more than 30 years as a teacher, principal, administrator, video producer and writer.  He has taught and is interested in all levels of school from kindergarten through college, in urban and rural settings, across all disciplines. His work has spanned across school design, pedagogy, learning environments, and education reform.  He is supporting others doing similar work throughout the world.  Elliot’s interests lie in the field of how schools can connect with communities to understand tacit and disciplinary learning both in and outside of school.

At Thayer High School in Winchester, NH, his professional development programs won an “Innovations in State and Local Government Award” from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has been selected as the educator to watch in Rhode Island and has recently been selected as one of the Dirty Dozen – The Twelve Most Daring Educators by the George Lucas Education Foundation.

His dissertation on Innovative Pedagogy and New Facilities won the merit award from DesignShare, the international forum for innovative schools. Elliot lives in sunny San Diego with his wife and five dogs. You can e-mail Elliot at




Talmira Hill
Association for High School Innovation
P.O. Box 1058
Intervale, NH 03845

Nick Mathern
Associate Vice President, Policy & Partnership Development
Gateway to College
Portland, OR 97214

Dr. Vincent Mays
Office of Alternative Education
200 Washington Street
Newark, New Jersey 07102
(973) 733-7382
Fax:  (973) 733-7067

Elliot Washor
Big Picture Learning
325 Public Street
Providence, RI 02905

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Youth Development & Community Involvement


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Jennifer Brown Lerner
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Washington, DC 20036


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.