Zuckerberg-Funded AltSchool Expands to Chicago


An experimental private school with a focus on technology and backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is expected to expand its locations, opening its first Midwestern school in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Based in San Francisco, AltSchool is expected to work with the Chicago firm Centrum Partners in the development of a K-8 school that will be able to enroll as many as 150 students.  The school has received approval to open for the 2017-18 school year, and could become an anchor for a network of 7 or 8 “micro-schools” located throughout the city.

AltSchool believes its new technology and teaching methods could benefit the education system on a broad scale.

“We’re excited to see a different kind of geography, such as Chicago, that has tremendous character in terms of the city [and] a very different set of challenge and opportunities,” said AltSchool CEO and founder Max Ventilla.

The for-profit private school currently comes with a price tag of $20,000 per year, with four locations across San Francisco as well as schools in Palo Alto and Brooklyn that opened this fall.  With another location set to open in Manhattan in 2016, the Chicago school will be the first to not be on a coast.  Ventilla said Chicago was chosen after an extensive search for a city that represented a cross section of the country that holds similar viewpoints in terms of education and the importance of community.

“I think Lincoln Park is just a strong urban community that cares a lot and is involved, that is attractive to us,” said AltSchool’s Ethan Warsh, who works with real estate acquisition for the startup.  “There’s a lot of young families…it is one of our goals to have a neighborhood school where we are serving an immediate community.”

The location will open for the 2017-18 school year with 75 students.  Although it has the capacity to enroll 150, the school would like to ease into the transition with fewer students to begin with.  The school will be placed on the second level of a two-story building with a playground on the rooftop, writes Karis Hustad for Chicago Inno.

Founded in 2013, the school was created as an experimental model of education combining technology with learning tailored to each individual student.  Students of all ages are combined into classes that focus on real world experiences and offer a constant feedback loop of educators, engineers and the students themselves.  At the same time, education technology tools and practices will be tested.

The startup raised $100 million during a Series B funding round this year led by Founders Fund, and included Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Andreesson Horowitz, First Round Capital, and Learn Capital.  The school plans to use that money in its efforts to expand upon its locations, with enrollment expectations reaching 500 students this year.