The launching of Pinnacles Prep charter school in Wenatchee creates an opportunity for our communities to see the impact of a different learning environment than a traditional K-12 approach — one that is focused on individualized learning, fostering strong relationships between students, teachers and the community in a project-based environment.

This fall, Pinnacles Prep will open its doors at the Wenatchee Community Center with 120 sixth- and seventh-graders.

I interviewed Principal Jill Fineis recently for my Art of Community NCW podcast to explore how this new charter public school is being designed to build powerful relationships between teachers, students and families and create experiences that invite and encourage students to drive their learning. You can listen to our conversation at artof communityncw.com.

I came away impressed with the educational philosophy and shifting away from a system driven by grades and high stakes test scores as the primary motivators of learning. At the same time, the Pinnacles Prep approach is in alignment of how great teachers are already operating. Test scores and grades aside, they see the potential of their students and find creative ways to engage them. Pinnacles Prep is institutionalizing the approach and providing support for it.

In a sense, all great teaching is about finding ways for kids to be “lit up” about learning.

This relational approach demonstrates the art of teaching and the neuroscience evidence is clear that fostering a growth mindset that celebrates student effort rather than the final result of a test score or a grade is a powerful driver of learning.

It is no accident that the key principles of the learning environment were identified through the Wenatchee Learns effort of the Wenatchee School District several years ago, although it was never fully implemented.

The board members are all folks who get things done with many having deep experience in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math efforts at the Wenatchee School District, including Sarah Rolfs, Rick Wray, Karen Rutherford, Tod Treat, Tyler McGee and Flora Fernandez. Also playing key roles are community outreach ambassadors Teresa Zepeda, Teresa Bendito, Rosalba Gonzalez, Catalina Hernandez and Nicole Connor.

Fineis comes from a rich background that includes being a teacher and coach at an elite New Hampshire boarding school, a middle school science teacher and most recently as the science field experience coordinator for the Wenatchee School District. She has a master’s degree in interdisciplinary education and, after getting her administrator’s credentials, was an understudy to the very gifted Kory Kalahar at WestSide High School.

Fineis has a passion for helping close the opportunity gap for underserved children and so when the Pinnacles Prep opportunity came along, she jumped at the opportunity. “I felt it was a calling for me.”

The placement of the school is serendipitous because of ongoing revitalization efforts in South Wenatchee, including the redeveloped Kiwanis Methow Park. The leadership of Pinnacles Prep is committed to creating a facility that serves the neighborhood far better than it does today.

The objective is to reflect the community and thus far about 60 percent of the applications for joining the school are from our Latinx community, which closely mirrors that of the Wenatchee School District.

Pinnacles Prep is being created around the concept of fostering the growth mindset of its students and a relational approach. Mentoring will be a key component of the school so that kids get the support they need to take greater ownership of their learning journey. Also envisioned is connecting students with the community through projects that bring them into close collaboration with local businesses.

While Pinnacles Prep will still be required to administer state tests, students will be evaluated based on competency rather than grades. Grades and test scores can trap students into believing that they are a good or bad student in a subject. In her book, Mindset, Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck beautifully described how focusing on effort rather than ultimate outcomes builds the resilience and learning capacity of students.

I’m highly impressed with what Fineis and her board and advisers are creating at Pinnacles Prep. Depending on the success of this approach, we may learn new ways to transform our public schools and ensure that we are meeting kids where they are and helping them thrive.

Pinnacles Prep is actively recruiting teachers and board members and taking applications for the fall. For more information, check out pinnaclesprep.org.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com or 509-665-1162.