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Getting Smart Podcast

Jan 6, 2021

This week, Tom is speaking with Joe Erpelding, a passionate educator and leader who is in the business of transforming schools and students’ lives.

Joe served as the Principal at the Poway Unified School District for a number of years before making his way to Design39Campus where he was able to create a magical, one-of-a-kind school experience for every learner. Now, he is transitioning to support the team at Thrively, a tool for helping learners understand their strengths, purpose, and passion.

Listen in as Tom speaks with Joe about what makes Design39 a magical place to be, why design thinking matters, and what Thrively can do for education.


Key Takeaways:

[:09] About today’s episode with Joe Erpelding.

[:44] Tom Vander Ark welcomes Joe to the podcast!

[:50] How long has Joe been with Design39?

[1:05] What makes Design39 such a magic TK-8 campus.

[2:46] How the Design39 building reflects the amazing program and culture.

[3:15] How Joe and his colleagues describe what learners should know and be able to do at Design39.

[4:53] How they express their learning goals at Design39.

[5:53] What design thinking means to Joe and how they practice it at Design39.

[7:02] Joe builds a picture of what you would see if you walked into the classrooms of the primary grades.

[8:37] About the double classrooms, common spaces, and unique seating options at Design39.

[9:58] Joe shares about the unique “learning parties” at Design39 for the intermediate grades.

[11:10] The role of the teacher (or “learning experienced designers,” as they’re called at Design39).

[13:19] How does Joe think about the role of a school head, now having almost two decades of school leadership?

[14:37] Joe describes a difficult challenge that their community went through and how they approached it together, ultimately overcoming it.

[16:46] How Joe leads his own learning as a school head.

[19:04] How Joe and his colleagues led a new way forward in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[21:51] About the Thrively app, how it is being used at Design39, and what Joe is hoping to accomplish by joining the team.

[24:52] The age range Thrively covers.

[25:25] How the feature “sparks” within the Thrively platform helps ignite students’ curiosity.

[26:10] How Thrively helps promote social justice.

[27:01] The various ways teachers can utilize Thrively.

[29:16] Joe’s hopes for joining the Thrively team and what he hopes they can accomplish over the next two years.

[30:21] Where to learn more about Thrively, Design39Campus, and connect with Joe online.

[30:55] Tom thanks Joe for joining the podcast.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Joe Erpelding

Poway Unified School District



Education Reimagined


Altitude Learning

Big Picture Learning

Getting Smart Podcast Ep. 95: “Leadership for School Progress in Poway Unified


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