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Meet Kelly Tenkely

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Tenkely.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kelly. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My background is as a teacher and a technology integration specialist. I worked as a computer teacher and tech integration specialist for five years giving me a unique perspective within the school. I taught 475 elementary students each week and got to see them grow up year after year, get to know them, their families, and siblings. I was also working very closely with teachers in their classrooms to help them integrate technology into the curriculum. As a result, I had to work closely with the curriculum as well.

One day, I was teaching students how to build a website and demonstrating how to embed HTML code into their site. I was demonstrating using Google Maps and asked a group of 5th graders what I would search if I wanted to find a map of the capital of the United States. This was not meant to stump them, but it did. Out of the 75 5th graders that I taught, not one of them knew the capital of their own country. I really panicked assuming that there were some glaring holes in the curriculum we were teaching. I took all of our curriculum home that summer thinking that I would just supplement the holes with technology.

As I dug through the reading, writing, social studies, science, and math curriculum, I began to see a large disconnect between the students we were teaching, and the one-size-fits-all curriculum. The curriculum wasn’t lacking the content, but it certainly wasn’t teaching our students well. A pattern emerged as I looked through the curriculum, it delivered content, asked students to fill in worksheets, and take tests, but nothing about it led to deep learning or connections. I felt a sense of urgency to change things. Kids don’t have the luxury of time for adults to get their education right! I left my position the following year for health reasons. I have auto immune disorders and my body was attacking itself. In that year off, I consulted with area schools as a technology integration specialist.

This put me in contact with a lot of curriculum. I realized that regardless of the school, everyone was teaching curriculum from the same big six publishers and that it didn’t matter whether you pay for a child’s education or they go to the public school, it wasn’t serving them well. The curriculum is designed to get kids to pass tests, not concerned if they are actually learning. I saw kids getting left behind whether they were an, “A” student who mastered the game of school, or an “F” student who struggled to play that game. Being a tech integration specialist, I assumed that technology might be the answer. One day while I was creating tech curriculum supplements for a school, I was listening to Pandora Internet radio.

A song came on I had never heard before and I had a geek out moment marveling about how technology had gotten to the point where it could predict something that feels personal and get it right. I wondered if we could tailor listening stations if we could do something similar with learning. I started digging into the back end of Pandora and learned that it is called the Music Genome Project, based on the Human Genome Project which Maps DNA. The Music Genome was mapping music based on 400+ attributes of music. Each song gets tagged with those attributes and songs with similar profiles are included in a playlist. The algorithm gets smarter as you thumb up/down songs. I thought, learning has attributes, perhaps we can truly customize learning for students instead of the one-size-fits-all. I created a wireframe of the idea and called it the Learning Genome Project. As I was working with schools and talking with investors it became obvious to me that even if this piece of technology worked perfectly to customize learning for students, we don’t currently have a system of education that is ready for it. Class sizes are too large, we are focused on batch testing kids and insisting that they all look the same at the same age, the way we move kids from grade level to grade level, our assessment practices don’t work. Around this same time frame, I was also becoming heavily involved in education reform worldwide and was one of the co-chairs of a global virtual conference called the Reform Symposium. I was seeing what other countries were doing and became enamored with the inquiry approach to learning. I started dreaming on one of my blogs (Dreams of Education) about what school could look like if we designed it from the ground up.

One of the families whose children I taught in my previous position saw one of these posts and contacted me to see if we could catch up and grab coffee. They invited another family who I had taught along. The first words they said were, “we heard you’re starting a school.” I laughed and told them they were crazy and I had no intention of starting a school. They asked to hear my ideas about what school could be. At the end of the conversation, they sat back and said, “I don’t care if this school is in my basement, but our kids are going here next year so figure it out!” In August 2011, we opened Anastasis Academy a k-8 school.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It definitely hasn’t been a smooth road! Systems are designed to self-preserve, and education is a big system to take on. Everyone believes they are an expert in education and in a way, they are. We’ve all been through the system, know what it looks like and what to expect. We don’t think to question grade levels, assessment practices, homework, classroom design, curriculum, tests, etc. While parents know they want something different for their kids, they don’t want it to be too different. There is a comfortability with the status quo and to step outside of that can be scary for many. We’ve had to do a lot of education for families to understand why we make the decisions that we make.

One thing I didn’t expect was pushback from the local education community. We had people trying to undermine what we were doing, spreading fear, and even the superintendent of the school I was working for previously calling the building we were trying to lease and urging them not to work with us.

We are a tuition-based school. One of the things that I set out to do was to be a model that other schools could follow. I set our tuition based on per pupil expenditure in the public schools to show that it isn’t a money issue holding us back, but rather that we value the wrong things and spend money on those values. We started without financial backing or funding of any kind, tuition alone. This means that enrollment has to hit a certain number each year for us to be viable. I don’t have a marketing background, but also didn’t have the money to hire a marketer to help. I’ve had to be a learner every step of the way, learning how to start a business, market, build and design a website, all kinds of HR policies, budget for a business, work with a board, design curriculum, offer professional development for teachers, what to do when things go wrong and we need a lawyer, insurance, how to be a principal! The learning continues daily for me. 🙂

Anastasis Academy – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Anastasis is a k-8 school where each student is known and valued. We apprentice children in authentic learning through challenging inquiry, creativity, and critical thinking within a supportive community. We shape the development of the whole child including their social/emotional health. At Anastasis, students are active participants, designers, and evaluators of their learning. We take field trips once a week on average because we believe that learning is best when it is immersive. We have intentionally small class sizes. We develop reading, writing, and math curriculum that is tailored to who each student is. Rather than grouping kids based on grade level, we group based on social/emotional maturation and peer groups. This creates a safe place where students can be vulnerable in their learning and advance in learning at their own pace. All of our classes are connected with a non-profit in town that they partner with each month. This has been an incredible way for students to own their learning in the community and see how they can contribute in important ways no matter their age. One of the things I’m most proud of is the words our students use to describe their school experience. They use words like: Freedom and Family and Valued.

I’m also proud that we are able to advance students as they are ready through the curriculum. This means that if an 8th grade student is ready for high school content, they can continue learning. One of the things we did is start a Capstone program for this type of child. During the Capstone year, students’ partner with a non-profit of their choice and go through design thinking to help them solve a problem. Two of the students in this program became really interested in supporting refugees. This was during the 2016 election where there was a lot of misinformation in the media. The girls wanted to put people in touch with the actual stories of the refugees in our city. They invited the three major refugee organizations to share what they do in Colorado, invited some of the refugees whose stories touched them to share, and put on a silent auction all on their own. They invited the community to take part in the event and raised $3000 for the organizations that night. During the Capstone year, students also earn three graduate credits from Adams State University… All as 13 and 14 year old!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment of my career is when our alumni come back to share how we’ve changed their lives and ask to work with us. I love watching them grow up and I love that they still feel so connected to their elementary/middle school. Seeing kids empowered as learners and realize that it is okay to be exactly who they are is so wonderful!


  • Tuition is $10,000-11,000/year

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