Breakthrough Schools: Chicago

Breakthrough Schools: Chicago is a $2 million competition for school designers and other entrepreneurial educators to develop and launch next-generation schools in Chicago that provide personalized instruction. This citywide initiative is designed to move beyond tinkering with what we have, and develop the more effective solutions we need.

The local-national partnership led by Chicago’s LEAP InnovationsNext Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) and The Fund, aims to propel the nation’s third largest school district toward a critical mass of powerful, next-generation schools, disseminating best practices so all students are prepared to succeed with 21st Century skills. Chicago and Washington, D.C., were home to the first two regional NGLC efforts in the nation.

2014 winners include new start-ups as well as existing traditional public schools, charters, magnets, and turnarounds. Although their models may differ, they all share a clear vision: blended teaching and learning in which each student is engaged and empowered to take charge their own learning, while each educator uses robust data to pinpoint student needs allowing them to accelerate or remediate students.

The result: a new cadre of next-generation schools in some of the most challenged Chicago communities.

As part of the initiative to spur educator-led innovation and prepare a pipeline of principal-led teams to participate in Breakthrough Schools: Chicago, The Fund launched its inaugural Summer Design Program (SDP) in 2013.  Three participants from this initial SDP cohort went on to win grants through Breakthrough Schools: Chicago. An additional nine from subsequent cohorts have also gone on to win these grants. In addition to funding school-level grants associated with the first group of Breakthrough winners, The Fund has made a direct investment in LEAP Innovations to lead this work in Chicago.


  • Seven Chicago schools won $100,000 planning grants to develop and launch next-generation schools that provide personalized instruction. School profiles and plans are available.
  • A second set of 26 schools received planning grants in 2015, and some of the initial cohort has begun to receive implementation grants.