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Aurora Institute

Celebrating a Champion of Competency-Based Education

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation

Chris Sturgis (r) receiving the Outstanding Individual Contribution to Personalized Learning Award from iNACOL President & CEO Susan Patrick at the 2018 iNACOL Symposium.

We are entering a new year and a new season at iNACOL. We have bid a fond farewell to Chris Sturgis, a titan of competency-based education, whose mark on our work, and our lives, will be felt for many years to come.  We celebrate her tremendous body of work as co-founder and project manager of CompetencyWorks, and we congratulate her on her new journey as founder of LearningEdge.

When Chris and I started collaborating 10 years ago, we challenged ourselves to find the leading innovators across the United States who were building education systems based on mastery. Together, we were envisioning a new dawn and a path forward. By learning from the field, we wanted to share knowledge for building a bridge to transport thinking and doing in reimagining our nation’s education system for what it could be. We hosted the first National Summit on Competency-Based Education in 2011. We spoke in an entirely different language than other “reforms,” and much of our work was stoking the imagination of school leaders and policymakers around the country to understand that our schools weren’t appropriately centered around student learning or youth development or true transparency that drives toward continuous improvement, quality, depth of learning and equity strategies every day.

We made up our minds that we would crowdsource the voices of educators and practitioners — as many as were willing to listen and share — to build a collective vision of redesigning the learning environment away from being a time-based, ranking-and-sorting system and one that purveyed meaningless credentials into one in which success is community-defined, sets a high bar for all students for their future success and ensures students advance by demonstrating mastery.

As like-minded, yet geographically siloed education leaders joined our ranks, Chris deftly took up the mantle of leadership — and of continuous learning — and did the work of shepherding our emerging field. Put simply, she has been one of the most prolific contributors this field will ever see. The countless hours of deep collaboration with experts, practitioners and leading educators all over the country; the willingness to give generously in mind and spirit sage advice, counsel and mentoring to professionals and school districts; the insatiable curiosity that produced hundreds of questions and led to years of inquiry has built a formidable ally to competency-based education in Chris Sturgis.

In just the last nine years alone, Chris has authored 19 major publications for CompetencyWorks, including these recently:

In addition to those reports, she’s led 19 webinars — nearly 200 hours of professional learning programming and conducted 110 school visits. She’s written 841 blogs, dissecting and analyzing tough topics and lessons learned for the field. is now being led by iNACOL’s new Research Director Eliot Levine, and we are profoundly grateful for the wisdom Chris has shared and for being able to walk in the path that she has trailblazed.

Dear Chris, what can I say about working side-by-side for almost a decade, imagining and then manifesting our vision for the field of competency-based education? How do I pay tribute to a hero whose work and insights and innovations have catapulted competency education into the national education conversation? Throughout, you’ve been the consummate professional, a staunch partner, a courageous leader, and I am proud to call you friend and colleague. Thank you.