Moving to Mastery: A National Policy Forum on Competency-Based Education

Moving to Mastery: A National Policy Forum on Competency-Based Education
Moving to Mastery: A National Policy Forum on Competency-Based Education

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This National Policy Forum on K-12 competency-based education, co-sponsored by CompetencyWorks and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, will highlight important research, policy trends, and issues for advancing competency-based education. The forum showcased experts from leading state and district efforts to transform K-12 student learning using competency-based education and discussed federal policy issues and recommendations for the United States.

Leading countries internationally have built education systems based on a competency-based education approach, not seat-time as we do in the United States. Now, innovative states and school districts around the country are beginning to challenge the time-based educational system that has been in place for decades by moving to a competency-based education approach of their own. Thirty-six states have policies providing flexibility for competency-based education.

Competency-based education requires rethinking the time-based system of accountability and assessment in favor of robust student-centered approaches.  It provides loads of data on students meeting competencies in real-time to improve accountability, new systems of assessments, and is centered on improving student learning outcomes. This approach allows for stronger personalization and student-centered learning, including ensuring all students succeed in building college and career readiness, consistent with recently adopted Common Core standards; taking advantage of the extraordinary technological advances in online learning; allowing students to learn at their own pace, any time and everywhere; and providing greater flexibility for students that might not otherwise graduate from high school.


Speakers included Susan Patrick, President and CEO, International Association of K-12 Online Learning; Chris Sturgis, President, MetisNet; Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Education; and Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent, RSU 2 School District, Maine.


Presenter Biographies

Virgel Hammonds is the Superintendent of Regional School Unit Two (Maine, capital area).   His school district is the first, public learning community in Maine to require learners to achieve proficiency on all standards, prior to advancing to the next level.  His team has also initiated a vision of customizing the learning process to meet the unique needs of each child on a daily basis.


Prior to his role in Maine, Hammonds was the principal of Lindsay High School in Lindsay, California (2007 – 2011).  The Lindsay Unified School District was one of the first comprehensive school districts to redesign the delivery of instruction to a performance-based system.  In his four years at Lindsay High School, his learning community produced double-digit gains on state assessments while personalizing instruction and assessments for each learner.


In addition to his district work, Hammonds and his team often partner with the Maine Department of Education, the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, and the Great Schools Partnership to support the expansion of proficiency-based, learner-centered instruction throughout Maine and the New England region.



Paul Leather’s background and experience in Education, Counseling, and Administration in New Hampshire spans three decades. He is the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Education in New Hampshire, and has also served for 18 years as the Director of the Division of Career Technology and Adult Learning for the Department. There, he oversees statewide initiatives such as High School Redesign, Extended Learning Opportunities, and Drop-Out Prevention, as well as the administration of Vocational Rehabilitation, Adult Education, Career and Technical Education, Tech-Prep, School Guidance and Counseling, Apprenticeship Programs, and Career Development efforts, including Workforce Investment Act coordination for the NHDOE. In 1997, as part of the NH School to Career efforts, Mr. Leather began the journey to create a state model for a “competency-based student transcript.” This effort resulted in the development and implementation of the NHCompetency-Based Assessment System and ultimately to the student mastery model now in place as part of NH’s school approval standards.



Susan Patrick is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is the leading voice for the emerging field of online and blended learning. Representing a diverse cross-section of K-12 education, including school districts, educators, state education agencies, universities, education reformers, and a variety of content and technology providers, iNACOL serves the field through education and advocacy aimed at building the capacity of online and blended learning professionals, publishing national quality standards and shaping the direction of the field as a whole.  In 2011, she was named to the International Advisory Board for the European Union program for lifelong learning/virtual education.

She is the former Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. Prior, Patrick worked for Governor Hull in Arizona as legislative liaison on technology policy issues. She was a Site Director for Old Dominion University’s TELETECHNET distance learning program.

Patrick holds a master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and a bachelor’s degree from the Colorado College. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Colorado College in 2011.

Patrick was the first woman to play in the men’s intramural football league at the Colorado College.

Chris Sturgis is Principal of MetisNet, a consulting firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that specializes in supporting foundations and special initiatives in strategy development, coaching, and rapid research. MetisNet specializes in education, 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 joining the philanthropic sector, she worked in state government, human service organizations, and campaigns.

Her clients include the Donnell-Kay Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Skillman Foundation, and the McCune Foundation. She has consulted to the U.S. Department of Education on secondary school policy. She is co-founder of the Youth Transition Funders Group and is project manager of CompetencyWorks and the Connected by 25 blog. Chris is a frequent writer on education, youth, and competency education.


Recommended Resources

Click here to view Virgel Hammond’s PowerPoint Presentation»

Click here to view Susan Patrick and Chris Sturgis’ PowerPoint Presentation»

Click here to view Paul Leather’s PowerPoint Presentation»

Click here to read the Forum Brief for this event (PDF)»

Presenter Information

Virgel Hammonds


RSU 2 School District

7 Reed Street

Hallowell, ME 04347-3047


Paul Leather

Deputy Commissioner

New Hampshire Department of Education

101 Pleasant St.

Concord, NH 03301

603 271-3801


Susan Patrick


International Association for K-12 Online Learning

1934 Old Gallows Rd

Suite 350

Vienna, VA 22182



Chris Sturgis



P.O. Box 140

Santa Fe, NM 87501









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.