Agile Journey to Hope


In Phoenix, Arizona, there is a tucked away school called Hope High. The school serves “at-risk” students who have been thrown out of their public school or whose lives have taken them on a different track in life. Hope High School is small, with little resources, except for passionate staff whose personal commitment has always been to uplift and support these students who others have given up on. Their mascot, the Bulldogs, is a perfect metaphor for an underdog school fighting for underdog students.

Facing School Closure

Yet, their school was failing, receiving an F evaluation from the State of Arizona. The traditional “by the book” methods do not work for their students. Of course, perhaps the grading system is not fair, considering that the students often come to Hope High School with major gaps in their learning and huge impediments in their home environments, from gangs, having to work full time, and  raising children of their own.  That is irrelevant when the school was facing to be shut down, leaving their students with few options if Hope High School disappeared from their lives. What mattered was to succeed in the eyes of the state, their students, and their community. Vowing to turn the ship around, they recruited new leadership. A new Principal, Krissyn Sumare, began in 2014/2015 school year to usher in a strategic turnaround and create a culture of achievement. In addition, Mark French was hired as the new CEO for Blueprint Education, Hope High School’s parent organization. With a new leadership team, they crafted a bold new mission:

“Inspiring students to make better choices and be a champion of their own learning.”

and they mean it. They have looked at every part of school operations to align with the vision:
  • creating more flexible schedules to accommodate their student life conditions and
  • providing several hours every day to teachers to plan, reflect, learn, and collaborate and y to personally connect with students,
  • Perhaps the most transformational of all, bringing in Agile as a core part of their core pedagogy as a process to empower their students in their own learning. I have been working with Hope High School to implement Agile Classrooms for a year to help turn around the failing school through a culture of Agility.

Sharing Our Story at the Scrum Gathering

Agile Classrooms is based on Scrum, a framework comprised of self-organizing teams working iteratively to deliver the highest value in a highly complex and fast changing world. The Scrum Alliance has been an active champion of the Hope High School’s journey and the work we do at Agile Classrooms to bring Scrum into education. So, we were honored to share our story at the Global Scrum Gathering Phoenix 2015. I joined Krissyn, Mark, and Hope High School’s math teacher, Chris Buehnerkemper. The session was moderated by the always energetic facilitator, Jake Calabrese.

We shared how, at the beginning of 2014/15 school year, we began the journey to Agile Classrooms. It was a year of major ups and downs, from struggling enrollment, power outages, and even a flood. The typical classroom was in disorder, students acting out and teachers feeling they have lost all order and respect in their classrooms. As one teacher at Hope High School declared to her students, “We have failed you as teachers. We are not going to fail you any longer”, a rallying cry to reclaim the classroom as a space for learning. Through introducing the Visible Classroom, teachers and students co-created Classroom Agreements and made the process and progress of learning transparent, the school began to turn things around. Students began feeling more respected and felt their voice was heard. The learning environment began to evoke flow versus distraction. There were still fighting and other issues, but, they decreased significantly. The student perception of greater control over their learning and life grew. And….scores skyrocketed on their state assessment and benchmarks! I honestly did not expect that to happen so quickly, and the credit goes to the heroic efforts of the teachers and the courageous leadership of Krissyn Sumare of always believing that their students can become achievers.

One of the highlights of the year was students and staff attending Mike Vizdos, CST, Certified ScrumMaster Training, equipping them with not only an empowered approach to learning but relevant, in demand 21st Century Skills the workforce is desperately seeking. We thank Mike for donating his time, expertise, and experience in helping Hope High School move to the next level in their Agility.

Sketch Notes of Stories of Hope High School at Scrum Gathering Phoenix

The New Hope

Although we are just at the beginning and have seen some successes, we have a lot more to do, and we have learned more about what works and what does not. Next year, Hope High School is launching phase 2 of their Agile initiative, called The New Hope. They are disrupting the current sit and get model with a self-paced blended learning model, triggering the transformation of teachers into facilitators of learning instead of sages on the stage. We will incorporate the second element of Agile Classrooms, the Learning Rhythm, for rapid feedback and a structured path to scaffold student empowerment. What inspires me the most is Hope High School’s vision to Be Agile, not just to Do Agile. They will be incorporating the principles of feedback, empowered relationships, and continuous improvement with their staff as well and serve as models to their students. I look forward to supporting Hope High School in their next phase in growing highly empowered 21st century learners.

Helping One Another

The Scrum Community was amazing, offering their exuberant support and encouragement, many asking how they can help bring Agile to schools and support us at Hope High School. We look forward to enlisting the help of the Scrum Alliance community to make an impact in the present and future lives of students, and make school a more humanizing place to learn. As well, the Scrum Community can learn much from the education field in how learning happens and the power of purpose.  Hope High School, Blueprint Education, and Agile Classrooms are so grateful for the support of the Scrum Alliance and its members. We look forward to the continued partnership to pivot students from struggling to succeeding!

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