Reimagining Secondary Schooling

Building 21 co-founders Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan are creating a new model for providing students aged 14 through 24 the opportunity to choose and design learning experiences that are self-initiated, self-directed and self-paced. A model that will adapt over time to meet students’ needs.

“We firmly believe that our design efforts will always be a work in progress, and are therefore committed to an ongoing process of reflection and iteration—a process of continual building.”

Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan, Co-Founders


When Kerri Lynch got the news that her daughter was accepted by Building 21, she couldn’t contain her elation. “I was screaming in her ear,” she said of the moment school co-founder Laura Shubilla notified her by phone.

Lynch’s 14-year-old daughter had experienced a rocky year at her charter school and “I’d already decided I was going to home-school her”— until she heard about Building 21.

As a member of the school’s first class of 150 ninth graders in the fall of 2014, she’ll experience a novel approach to urban high school education. Shubilla and co-founder Chip Linehan eschewed traditional teaching methods for a curriculum customized to each student’s needs, interests and abilities. The students will learn at their own pace in a “competency-based” system which will require evidence of actual mastery instead of just a grade.

Failure will be forestalled by engaging the students, as teacher Andre Landon explained at a parent forum. If math is a stumbling block, for instance, he’ll determine what the students’ interests are. “Once I find out what they’re into, I can find a way to relate numbers to it,” Landon said.

Students will be liberated from back-to-back lectures and a school day confined to the building. They’ll be assigned to one of three groups of 50 students with three teachers each and they’ll create projects, work on computers, get involved with their neighborhood, and go off-campus to learn real world skills from community partners.

Imagine being taught to cook by pioneer chef Marc Vetri, who’s already committed to the project; or forming an investment club with a financial planner whose firm may fund the students’ stock portfolio.

Lynch believes this innovative and dynamic approach to education is just what her daughter needs. And even her daughter seemed impressed after a parents’ forum. “I like it,” she said.

Illustration by Russell Edling.

Catalyst Fund Investment

March 2014
$100,000/6 months

Funding supports the planning and fall 2014 implementation of Building 21. Building 21 is an innovative new school model that seeks to engage and motivate students in a way that is consistent with the expectations of our technology-focused society, and endow students with critical skills and academic content in a rigorous fashion.

Why We Funded

  • Innovative education model
  • Supported by the District’s Office of New School Models
  • Strong funding partners
  • Potential to serve as a regional and national model

Learn More

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