Sage Ridge School partners with equity consultant “Challenge Success” to replace academic rigor with student wellness


On May 17, 2022, Sage Ridge School, an independent school for grades 3 through 12 in Reno, Nevada, hosted an information session for parents to learn about the school’s equity work with its education consultant, Challenge Success. Representatives from Challenge Success spoke to parents about how schools should place “student and community wellness at the center of everything a school does.”

Challenge Success’s May 17, 2022 presentation:

According to Challenge Success representatives, prioritizing “student and community wellness” can be accomplished by “replacing traditional academic content, tests, quizzes, and papers” with so-called “proven strategies that promote well-being.” Challenge Success recommends changes such as adding late start days, social and emotional learning SEL advisory class periods, and personal learning plans; reducing the number of classes per day; modifying grading policies and graduation requirements; and eliminating homework, midterms, final exams, weighted GPAs, and class rankings. 

Sage Ridge School

Sage Ridge School claims to provide a “college preparatory curriculum to Reno area students in grades 3-12,” according to the school’s admissions materials. “Sage Ridge is the only non-sectarian college preparatory school in Reno, Nevada, USA. It offers a diverse academic environment for grades 3 through 12 through the teaching of various mathematics, science, English, history, Spanish and Latin classes.” The school was founded in 1998 by a group of parents in Reno wanting a “traditional, rigorous liberal arts education” for their children without having to send them away to boarding school. Tuition for the 2022-23 academic year ranges from $17,700 in the lower school to $23,700 in the upper school.

Sage Ridge School’s partnership with Challenge Success

Sage Ridge School began working with the Challenge Success company during the pandemic 2020-21 academic year. The school created a “Challenge Success team” composed of students, teachers, administrators, and parents working toward the goals of “improving student wellness by listening to students” and “examining the school’s approach to homework and assessment.” By the end of the 2021-21 academic year, Sage Ridge School had implemented the following Challenge Success changes: longer passing times, breaks, and lunch periods; more class meetings; and a homework survey and changes to the school’s homework policies.

Challenge Success’s 2022 Spring Conference

On May 7, 2022, Sage Ridge School’s Challenge Success team attended Challenge Success’s 2022 Spring Conference held at Stanford University to begin the process of setting Challenge Success goals for the 2022-23 academic year. Challenge Success’s conference included the following workshops:

  • Centering SEL to Promote Deeper Learning
  • Detangling Worth from Achievement
  • Positive Coping Strategies
  • Prioritizing Equity Work
  • Regulate, Relate, Reimagine
  • Rethinking Assessment
  • Teaching for Engagement
  • Understanding Mental Health and Challenging Stigma
  • Engaging Parents at Challenge Success Schools

The Challenge Success company and its founder

The Challenge Success company was founded by Denise Pope in 2007 as an education consultancy focused on “partnering with schools and families to implement research-based strategies for student well-being and engagement.” Denise Pope is a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education.

As a guest on the National Association of Independent Schools “New View EDU” podcast on April 19, 2022, Pope explained the company’s “SPACE Framework for School Change” which includes the following recommendations: 

  • Revise school schedules (including late start days, modified block, full block, or trimester schedules)
  • Revise homework policies to ensure purpose and volume of homework is appropriate
  • Schedule quarterly “no homework” nights
  • Eliminate summer and vacation assignments
  • Modify curriculum and school assignments to make them more relevant to students’ lives
  • Add a service learning component to an existing unit to increase student engagement and understanding of the topic
  • Consider eliminating mid-terms and/or final exams
  • Revise late work and “zero” policies
  • Modify the grading system, such as using narrative assessments, creating unweighted GPA’s, or eliminating student rankings
  • Implement an advisory system to focus on social and emotional learning and to help students find faculty advocates.

Pope has spoken at National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conferences and Sage Ridge School is a member of NAIS. According to Challenge Success’s website, the company has worked with “550+ schools and counting!”.

The company profiles client “success stories” on its website:

According to its “Commitment to Equity”:

“Challenge Success continuously examines and revises our work to further engagement and well-being for all of our students, schools, families, and communities, including those for whom identity, culture, and socioeconomic status have resulted in exclusion.”