Creating a Learner-Centered High School by Listening to Learners

Synergy @ Mineola

Mineola Public Schools

Creating a Learner-Centered High School by Listening to Learners 

Synergy@ Mineola High School is part of Mineola Schools in Long Island, NY
The district serves approximately 2,800 students, with a high school
enrollment of 1,056 students in grades 8 through 12.


Diagnostic, Coaching, Empathy Interviews, Learning Walks, Strategic Planning


Recognizing the value of a personalized, competency-based, learner-driven model of education to best support the diverse strengths and challenges of learners, the Mineola School District partnered with Learner-Centered Collaborative to elevate student voice and build upon existing strengths in the design of Synergy @ Mineola, an extension of the high school that combines “a revolutionary and proven educational model and adds practical, real-world business experience,” as explained by Superintendent Mike Nagler.


Building upon the district vision for Synergy, this collaboration tapped into student voice through empathy interviews with educators, students, and administrators and leveraged the design thinking process facilitated by Learner-Centered Collaborative. This yielded processes and structures that supported learners to design their daily schedule, access curriculum, and engage in meaningful learning experiences based on their needs. Grounded in shared values and goals, structures and routines that strengthen relationships between teachers and students, enable candid and critical feedback, and instill a positive sense of belief to help unlock potential and growth. At Synergy, the team is focused on the enabling conditions including clear vision and learning model, aligned policies, use of time and space, and relational trust building practices such as building time for reflection and check-ins into the schedule.

To inform next steps based on needs and desires that emerged from the empathy interviews, Learner-Centered Collaborative conducted Learning Walks to uncover bright spot practices that were already happening in the district. Highlights included built-in daily class time for reflection, “Badge Books” in grades K-2 that make learning visible even among the youngest learners, elementary students tracking and explaining their progress through their learning portfolios, Genius Hour Projects, and community internships complete with presentations of learning by Synergy students.

Student input, coupled with competency-based learning examples at the elementary level, highlighted the potential of competency-based learning at Synergy and beyond to best showcase nonlinear, multimodal demonstrations of progress, competency, and mastery. Seeing such success among the younger grades drives Mineola’s current work to replicate these learner-centered experiences across the district and to show learners that their progress is impacted by their own work and learning.


  • Conducted a diagnostic assessment of vision and resources and instructional practices to highlight bright spots and identify next steps to evolve the competency-based system.
  • Conducted empathy interviews with students to better understand the unique needs and experiences of each individual.
  • Facilitated a 2 day design session to promote agreement on norms, structures, and routines including the roles of all stakeholders, schedules, and learning opportunities.
  • Illustrated the principles of the learning model through the exercise “A Day in the Life of a Synergy Learner.”

Schools should be a place where you follow the love of learning and not begrudgingly take classes because you have to.

– Michael Nagler, Superintendent, Mineola Public Schools

My teachers believe I can succeed. They give me the tools and resources, share the information, and point me in the direction if there’s more to get. That’s what learning should be like.

– Student, Synergy @ Mineola High School

There’s something about feeling confident. So many times in the past, I’d give up before I even started, positive that I would fail. That’s starting to change for me now. I’m learning how to help myself, how to take control of my situations, use my resources, and be what I’m capable of being.

– Student, Synergy @ Mineola High School

Related Posts

Go to Top