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Our journey

You don’t have to believe in fate to appreciate symmetry.

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The Path to this Moment

Hawken burst to life on Ansel Road near what we now call University Circle. In fact, the first Hawken students ate their lunch every day in the Art Museum’s cafeteria because our small schoolhouse didn’t include a kitchen.

It feels right that The Mastery School of Hawken is some 700 yards from Hawken’s original 1915 home because the Mastery School is a pure expression of our original intent and extension of what Hawken has refined over the past decade or so. 

We are a school born of core values. We are the outgrowth of a commitment to make school more human and humane. We are a school that seeks to prepare students for an unscripted future by equipping them with skills, knowledge, and habits that they can use no matter how the world changes.

The Mastery School, it turns out, is very much like the school James A. Hawken (pictured here) established a century earlier — a forward focused school that resisted the industrial model, the assembly line, the mechanization of learning. 

We are a school for today and tomorrow built on the wisdom of yesterday. 

The Mastery School of
Hawken’s story…
in brief:

  1. 2006-2007
    • D. Scott Looney becomes Hawken’s tenth Head of School.
    • The community develops the The Three Ps (Purpose, Promise & Principles) and begins work on a strategic plan that will return Hawken to its original forward-focused intent.
  2. 2007-2008
    • With a clarified mission in hand, Hawken begins to focus more energy on experiential learning.
    • Hawken’s Board of Trustees purchases and renovates the Mather House at 10823 Magnolia Drive.
  3. 2008-09
    • The Great Recession hits. Dreams are threatened.  But fortunately, heroes emerge.
    • Bob and Sally Gries who believe so much in the vision of the school that they fund what becomes The Sally and Bob Gries Center for Service and Experiential Learning.
    • Hawken’s Upper School begins to develop two major initiatives: Becoming a 1-to-1 tablet computer school and developing experiential courses called Intensives — three weeks where students take one course, five days a week, all day.
  4. 2009-10
    • The first Intensives launch. They are inconsistent at first, but become great.  They are the first “proof of concept” program towards what will become a disruptive advance in experiential learning for high schools.  Later, many other high schools will follow Hawken’s lead.
    • While the change immediately feels positive, it becomes clear that Hawken had changed the schedule and now needed to focus on the methods of teaching.
  5. 2011-12
    • Doris Korda becomes the Associate Head of School and Kim Samson becomes the Assistant Head of School for the Gates Mills campus.
    • Korda’s job is to operationalize Hawken’s vision, focusing first on making the Intensives program more robust and refined.
  6. 2012-13
    • The Macro is born.  To expand the use of the Gries Center, Looney floats the idea of offering a multi-block interdisciplinary class that could run in University Circle.
    • Seeking feedback on the idea, Looney asks seniors to imagine what kinds of topics such a course could explore. The clear winner: Entrepreneurship.
    • Korda begins designing what becomes Hawken’s first Macro, focusing on Entrepreneurship. The core principle: Students will learn everything while they solve real problems.
    • Korda pilots Entrepreneurship as a semester elective in the high school.
  7. 2013-14
    • Looney publishes The Future of Education: Why Hawken Has to Lead, which posits that schools must evolve to meet the moment.  
    • The badging movement, as a way to credit student work,  draws the attention of Hawken’s administration.
    • Korda launches Entrepreneurship as a multi-credit semester-long course at Gries
    • With Julia Griffin, Korda helps redesign the Upper School Humanities program using teaching methods that she’d developed over two decades.
    • The Entrepreneurship program earns $250,000 matching Innovation Grant from The Edward E Ford Foundation.
    • In the summer of 2014, Korda hosts her first educators workshops, fleshing out a very specific methodology for this kind of teaching.
  8. 2014-15
    • On the cusp of Hawken’s Centennial anniversary, Looney and Korda begin to sketch out the outlines of a “Lab School,” the seed of The Mastery School of Hawken.
    • Korda’s work with the Entrepreneurship program draws the interest of the community and, due to the extraordinary generosity of Lauren and Steve Spilman, and Stacie and Jeff Halpern, becomes The Sydell and Arnold Miller Institute for Entrepreneurship.
    • Looney holds Board level retreat to explore the possibility of launching a Lab School. The response is overwhelmingly positive.
  9. 2015-16
    • Hawken and the Birchwood School merge, launching the Birchwood School of Hawken. The initiative provides evidence that, if thoughtfully executed, a school can expand both geographically and programmatically, and operate with different tuition levels
    • However, there is a major boulder in the road that’s complicating Hawken’s efforts to redesign high school: the college process. Specifically, the role of the high school transcript because of the way grades and Carnegie units determine how schools work and limit how they can evolve. Looney begins to query college admissions officers about creating an alternative transcript. The conclusion: if Hawken made its own, it would be problematic, but if a dozen schools did it, well, then…it could work.
    • With funding support from education activist Ted Dintersmith, thirty independent schools come to Cleveland in April to discuss the rationale behind and to gauge interest in joining what Looney calls The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC). Looney and Korda who designed the event hope to persuade the 30 schools to opt in; and 28 of them do.
    • The MTC earns the prestigious Collaborative Learning Grant from the Edward E Ford Foundation, providing $2 million dollars for the launch.
  10. 2016-17
    • Griffin becomes the Assistant Head of the Upper School for Teaching and Learning, deepening the experiential learning work.
    • The Mastery Transcript Consortium officially launches in March 2017.
    • Looney and Griffin begin meeting to discuss the evolution of Hawken’s Upper School programming. These sessions essentially function as Griffin’s long interview to become the leader of what will become The Mastery School of Hawken.
  11. 2017-18
    • Korda and her team leave Hawken in order to launch what becomes The Korda Institute for Teaching. They remain key partners in Hawken’s development of innovative programs.
    • The MTC gathers steam. Stacy Caldwell becomes the CEO. The organization expands to include public schools in order to achieve its true intent to make college admissions process more equitable, inclusive and authentic for all students.
    • Looney and Griffin discuss multiple possibilities for launching the “Lab School” and plan an Intensive for the winter of 2018 tentatively called “Designing the Ideal High School.”
  12. 2018-19
    • When five buildings in University Circle unexpectedly become available, Looney and others see an opportunity to make the vision of the Lab School a reality. The Board of Trustees is enthusiastic, and authorizes the purchase of the campus.
    • In February 2019, Hawken announces The Mastery School of Hawken, which will open in August 2020 with Julia Griffin as the Director and the Korda Institute for Teaching as a central partner.
    • ReDesigning School launches to showcase the creativity of Hawken faculty and explore the issues at the heart of the Mastery movement.
  13. 2019-20
    • Griffin forms a Design Team of faculty who spend the year designing the program elements and culture of the Mastery School of Hawken.
  14. 2020-21
    • The Mastery School of Hawken welcomes the Founding Class of 33 students on September 7, 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
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To learn more about Hawken’s Healthy Restart Plan, click here!