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Design + Innovation

Three boys work at a laptop.

The Design Lab is Tulsa Public School's hub for design and innovation in our schools. The Design Lab supports educators, schools and the community to imagine and launch new learning experiences for our youth.

Regardless of the size of project, the scale of the vision, or the people involved, we use the same basic process. We help people move through four basic stages of design:

Step 1: Learn as much as possible about context, directly from those who experience it everyday. This usually involves interviews, real-life observations.

Step 2: Describe the context and issue as accurately as possible, with as much detail as possible. When they can paint a complete picture, they are ready to start designing solutions.

Step 3: Brainstorm many potential ideas that are based on an accurate understanding of the context.

Step 4: Test the most promising ideas, early and often. Improve the best idea as many times and ways as possible before launching.

Step 5: Launch, and keep learning and improving. Implement the best version of the idea, but keep treating it like a rough draft.

The Design Lab currently works in three areas: personalized learning, high school design, and charter school authorizing.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning allows students to learn and move at their own pace. Tulsa's personalized learning programs are all based in human relationships: technology is only tool, and never a teacher. We currently support two personalized learning programs in 14 schools in grades 4-12.

Tulsa has eight schools implementing Summit Learning: McClure Elementary, Whitman Elementary, Hamilton Elementary, Central Junior High, Central High School, Memorial Junior High, Memorial High School and Tulsa MET High School.

Summit is a highly-personalized program that focuses on rigorous content, individual habits of success and developing a sense of purpose in learners and learning. Summit schools use a thoughtful combination of classroom teachers, group work, individual work and online learning resources.

Tulsa has four schools offering Teach to One Math, a personalized learning math program. Teach to One Math allows students to learn in a variety of formats: teacher-led, student-led, collaborative and individual.  Currently we offer Teach to One in four schools: Webster Middle School, Hale Junior High, and McLain Junior High and High School.

For more information about our personalized learning programs, please reach out to Susan Carey.

Tulsa Beyond

One way Tulsa Public Schools embraces innovation is “Tulsa Beyond,” a high school design project with a bold goal: 

Tulsa Public Schools will design a system of high schools that prepare and inspire youth for the economic, cultural and environmental realities of a radically different and rapidly-changing future. 

Formally launched in the winter of 2018, Hale High School, McLain High School, Tulsa Learning Academy, and Webster High School formed design teams. Each team dedicated the 2018-2019 school year to understanding their community through hours of one-on-one interviews, using this information to develop their bold new high school models to better serve Tulsa students. The Tulsa Beyond schools are on track to open a small-scale version of their new school model in August of 2019, and will continue to expand and improve their model each year.
For more information on Tulsa Beyond, contact Director of High School Design, Dr. Aspasia Carlson.

Want to know more about teaching at a Tulsa Beyond school? Please visit our Tulsa Beyond page - you'll find job descriptions, our online application, and more!

Charter Authorization

The Design Lab serves as the charter authorizer for Tulsa Public Schools. Public charter schools have a long history of serving as early innovators in the public school system. This tradition, along with their commitment to excellence and improvement, make charter support and authorizing a natural fit within the Design Lab.

As the charter authorizer, Tulsa Public Schools provides the opportunity and support for public charter and partnership school operators to open and run great schools. Operating a public school and serving Tulsa students is a privilege, and one that Tulsa Public Schools reserves for those who can deliver on their promise of educational excellence.

For more information about our authorized public charter and partnership schools, please see the Charter/Partner page.

For more information about charter authorizing, please contact Andrea Castañeda.

City Lab

For more information, please contact Emily Hutton.

A group of students engaging in conversation in front of a bridge at Reed Park.

Tulsa Term

Juniors and seniors to spend a semester experiencing Tulsa as their classroom. For more information, please visit the Tulsa Term web page or contact Emily Hutton.

More about the Design Lab

The Design Lab exists to support school communities to imagine and create schools that unlock the potential of our youth, educators and city.

We empower those closest to youth with agency and voice.

We don't design things by ourselves. We work with others: youth, families, educators and communities and support their design efforts.

We champion equity, when it is easy and when it is hard.

We don't accept that our current educational outcomes are acceptable or inevitable. We believe we can do better -- and right -- by all students. To achieve this, we must use design to disrupt systemic and institutional racism and inequity.

We try small and fail forward.

We learn faster by doing; rather than theorizing the best solution, we prototype, learn, iterate and improve. We assume our first solution won’t be the best solution, so we start small. This way when we fail, we fail small. And when we succeed we scale bigger.

We design experiences, not things.

 It is easy to change things -- curriculum, physical space -- but too often, these changes don't change our fundamental beliefs and practices. We believe that human experiences are a more powerful fulcrum for change.

We measure outcomes.

 The design process values the learning from failure, but it doesn't accept failure itself. We measure outcomes so we can improve, exit or scale a solution based on results.


We learn from every experience.

Rapid learning is the key to rapid improvement. We have candid discussions about what is working and what isn’t, then we use that learning to make it better.

We support a culture of design and innovation throughout the district.

Great ideas and creative people need a climate in which they can thrive. We work to create that climate: in the district office, our schools, and our classrooms. 

We create opportunities for school communities to design new learning models.

Ideas, like schools, are strongest when supported by many voices. School design is the most powerful when communities -- those affected by and most knowledgeable about our neighborhoods and students -- are full partners.

We proactively and prospectively resolve barriers that interfere with new model success.

We run into barriers everyday. Some are technical barriers, like data reporting. And some are intangible barriers, like reluctance to change. Whatever the barrier is, we work to resolve, mitigate or work around it.

We believe the city can be our students' classroom.

Learning doesn’t happen just inside schools. We work with our community partners, youth development organizations, and higher education to design a complete learning experience.


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Students making a list of brainstorming ideas at FabLab.

Contact Us

Design Lab

Andrea Castañeda
Chief Innovation Officer

Joey Fraier
Design Lab Director

Emily Hutton
Director of Community Engagement

Aspasia Carlson
Project Director

Susan Carey
Project Manager, School Design

Mindy Sutterfield
Project Assistant

Female student in high school classroom looking back at camera.

Design Lab's Support to Schools, by the numbers

13 schools running personalized learning programs

2800 students learning in highly-personalized environments

2 elementary schools that launched innovative approaches to teaching and learning

6 public charter schools and one partnership school, serving approximately 2500 Tulsa students

Over 4100 youth and educators have contributed to our understanding of teaching and learning in Tulsa Public Schools