Building Competency-Based Pathways: Successes and Challenges from Leaders in the Field

Building Competency-Based Pathways: Successes and Challenges from Leaders in the Field
Building Competency-Based Pathways: Successes and Challenges from Leaders in the Field



This forum provided an overview of competency-based pathways to education and described programs that have successfully utilized these pathways to move all students to success in high school and beyond. Speakers highlighted how innovative learning environments that base student advancement upon mastery of measurable learning objectives have been effective for different types of students in both traditional and alternative education settings.

Lindsay Unified School District in California began its move to competency-based education four years ago and beginning this Fall will have a competency-based approach in place for grades K-11 where students progress based upon mastery of identified “measurement topics” rather than by grade level. Through system-wide reform, Lindsay Unified has redefined its curriculum, and has implemented a comprehensive assessment system as well as a new grading system. Diploma Plus enrolls over 3,400 students at 29 alternative high schools across the country and serves a population of over-age, under-credited students and other youth off-track for high school graduation. Using a competency-based approach to bring students to graduation, Diploma Plus students are placed into and promoted through three phases where they learn content and skills at an appropriate level, regardless of their age or previous credit accumulation.

Panelists addressed key considerations for building the capacity to provide competency-based pathways to high school graduation, and made recommendations for how state and federal policies can enable the necessary conditions for implementing these pathways.


Presenters included:


  • Chris Sturgis, Principal and Founder, MetisNet
  • Tom Rooney, Assistant Superintendent, Lindsay Unified School District, CA
  • Akili Moses Israel, Executive Director, Diploma Plus



Akili Moses Israel serves as the Executive Director for Diploma Plus™ (DP) and the Chief Executive Officer. As the Executive Director, Akili provides successful implementation of the Diploma Plus’ vision, strategic plan, and program components in existing and emerging DP networks.

Akili has been dedicated to educational improvement since her employment with Bay Area School Reform Collaborative (now Springboard Schools) in 1995. She has worked in several organizations committed to systemic school district improvement. Previously, Akili worked for LEED-Sacramento (Linking Education & Economic Development), a nonprofit organization managing regional workforce preparation and development in various roles including acting CEO and Director of Educational Development. Her work primarily focused on providing technical assistance to high schools and districts to create educational systems and environments that work to increase educational, emotional and social success for all young people.
Prior to her work with LEED, she served in multiple capacities to support educational organizations in their efforts to achieve educational excellence including School Improvement Facilitator, School Coach, External Evaluator, Education Researcher and Director of School Redesign. Her more recent work included supporting school conversations to create and develop smaller learning communities and small autonomous schools to better prepare young people for life after school.


Tom Rooney has served as Assistant Superintendent of the Lindsay Unified School District since 2000. He has served in public education for 19 years, including 13 years in leadership roles and 6 years as a classroom teacher. Over the past four years, Tom has led a district-wide effort to develop a performance-based system for the learners in Lindsay Unified, which is grounded on high academic and social standards and honors the principle that different learners learn in different ways and in different time frames. As a cornerstone to this work, Tom coordinated the development of the LUSD Strategic Design. This has led to the implementation of a guaranteed and viable standards-based curriculum in all content areas K-12, a comprehensive assessment system, a common instructional model, an effective data-analysis process, close monitoring of all learners, and regular formative feedback. The system in Lindsay Unified has re-defined many of the traditional structures of schooling and developed a future-focused, learner-centered educational environment. Tom has led these efforts with the on-going support of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), Beatrice McGarvey and Chuck Schwahn from Schwahn Leadership Associates, and Robert Marzano from Marzano Research Laboratories.


Chris Sturgis is President of MetisNet, a consulting firm that specializes in supporting foundations in strategy development, coaching and rapid research. MetisNet specializes in high school reform, dropout recovery, youth issues, and community engagement.   Chris brings a commitment to drawing on local knowledge (metis) early in the design process to ensure that problem definition reflects the realities of communities. Her knowledge of philanthropy was developed while at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and  Omidyar Foundation. Prior to that she worked in state government, human service organizations, and campaigns. She has consulted to the U.S. Department of Education on secondary school policy as well as national and regional foundations. She is co-founder of the Youth Transition Funders Group.



Akili Moses Israel
Executive Director
Diploms Plus, Inc.
980 9th St
16th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
(510) 686-3319


Tom Rooney
Assisntant Superintendent
Lindsay Unified School District
371 E Hermosa
Linsday, CA 93247
559-562-5111 ext. 5711


Christine Sturgis
Principal and Founder
223 N. Guadalupe Street
Suite 140
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Forum Resources

When Failure is Not An Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning (Full Report)


Clearing the Path:  Creating Innovation Space for Serving Over-Age, Under-Credited Students in Competency-Based Pathways


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.