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Client Spotlights

PBL Training

We’ve worked with hundreds of clients in dozens of states. Here are deep dives on a few.

PBL Training at North Marion

North Marion School District is a small K-12 district located in a rural community south of Portland, Oregon with an exciting vision to prepare all its students to succeed in college and career. At the center of their vision is a commitment to engaging all students through project-based learning.


Over a four-year period, senior consultant Theron Cosgrave partnered with district officials to deliver in-depth training on project-based learning to nearly every teacher in the district. These annual multi-day summer workshops enabled grade level teams to collaborate and develop ready-to-roll projects for their students that aligned to Common Core standards, embedded technology tools, and featured community-facing exhibitions of work.


In follow-up sessions during the year, Theron was able to help teachers navigate project implementation challenges and figure out next steps for their students. We’re excited to see the payoff of North Marion’s whole-district PBL focus.

I have really enjoyed this training. Your insight on PBL is fantastic! I can’t thank you enough!”


– Tracy, Intermediate School Teacher, North Marion, OR

Coaching valley
Team building and coaching at Valley High

Valley High School is a large urban school located in the heart of Santa Ana, California. Over 97% of its 2100 students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and a majority of students are English language learners. As part of a multi-year school improvement initiative, Swanson & Cosgrave delivered technical assistance and coached school leaders on the implementation of a school-wide career academy model.


Two primary coaching strategies were used at Valley. First, our team helped to create a “Design Team” of about 15 school and community leaders tasked with framing out all aspects of the wall-to-wall academy approach. Over a two-year period, we facilitated monthly full-day meetings of this team and coached the group to build a culture of collaboration, inquiry, and teacher leadership.

Program Design for the Oregon Small Schools Initiative

Simultaneously, we also engaged school Principal Dave Richey with individual leadership coaching. In this capacity we served as thought partners, at times confirming Dave’s outstanding instincts and at times challenging him to consider different strategies and areas of emphasis. One ongoing focus was an effort to create visual models that showed how the school’s many programs and initiatives worked together.


In 2016, the school received its first six-year accreditation award in over a decade—a clear testimony to the hard work of teachers and leaders at this school on the move.

program design

Michelle and Theron helped us use systems thinking and stakeholder input to move forward on our school priorities.”


– Dave Richey, Valley HS Principal

Sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Oregon Small Schools Initiative was a multi-year effort to bring innovation to high schools across Oregon, primarily through starting new small high schools and converting large existing schools into autonomous small learning communities. From the inception of the project in 2003, we worked intimately with Director Karen Phillips designing key elements of the initiative, including their “School Change Rubric,” coaching model, and professional development plan.

As the initiative gained momentum and began opening small schools in a diverse number of settings across the state, we provided intensive technical assistance to several of the demonstration sites, including McMinnville Academy of Communication Arts, South Medford High School, and Woodburn High School. We also delivered customized PBL training to several cohorts of Initiative teachers. Our work with OSSI represents an excellent example of working at multiple levels across an initiative—from big-picture organizational work to customized one-on-one work with teachers and school leaders.

One of the schools launched through the Oregon Small Schools Initiative was the Academy of Arts and Academics (A3) in Springfield, OR. When the school opened in 2008, Michelle worked intensively with principal Mike Fisher to create structures and strategies that meet the unique needs of all learners at the school. Her support also included assistance with advisory board development, development of an arts-focused program of study that prepares students to succeed in college and a wide range of career opportunities, and classroom project design. Theron developed assessment instruments for A3 to align with learning standards. This school-based work has resulted in improved test scores in reading, writing, and math for A3 students and the expansion of the program to other campuses across the district.

Our work recently expanded to the international realm as well, through our partnership with the American International School of Lagos. Over the past two years we’ve helped this Nigerian K-12 school align its instructional practices and integrate a project-based learning approach that prepares students for an International Baccalaureate program at the high school level. This exciting new project allows us to bring years of domestic experience to the international stage. 

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