A New Kind of Gold Rush: Personalized Learning in Lindsay, California


In Lindsay, California, education is gold. Julius Orton was born in 1825 in Richland County, Ohio. Orton later moved to Missouri and in 1859, accompanied by his wife and two small daughters and driving a small herd of cattle west in search of gold, he settled along the Tule River southwest of Lindsay, California. Orton became a part of Lindsay history in the 1880s when he took up a 160-acre homestead, the town’s second landowner, and was credited with planting the first orange trees in the Lindsay district, giving rise to the motto, “Central California’s Citrus Center.”

Against a back drop of the Seqoia National Forest, Lindsay, California is in the the heart of the Central Valley. Though Orton hoped to strike it rich in the gold rush, historically, Lindsay gold is actually orange. The entire community is in some way connected to the orange trees grown in Lindsay and showing up in grocery stores all over the United States.

But what Lindsay is known for is changing.

In the words of Lindsay Unified School District Superintendent Thomas Rooney, Lindsay didn’t just “tweak” their education system. They “dismantled” it. What sets Lindsay apart from many districts that aspire to a more personalized learning approach is that they didn’t just talk about doing it, they did it. They asked themselves big questions (“What kind of learners do we want our students to be?”) and in the 2003-2004 school year, began implementation of a competency-based approach that has gone on to transform not only their education system, but their entire community.

Jaime Robles, Director of Human Resources at Lindsay Unified School District, insists that, “Graduating from high school is no longer the best day of their lives for Lindsay students. It is a great day, but one of many great days in their lives.”

So could it be that now, Lindsay gold is education? Visitors from around the United States make their way to Lindsay and leave in awe. A large contingent from Grand Junction, Colorado, visited recently and are now creating the platforms needed to lead the change for their learners. After their visit, a smaller group from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are hard at work figuring out how to implement competency-based education in their own community. One cannot leave the Lindsay community without thinking, “What can I do to make changes for learners?”

Perhaps personalized learning could be a modern-day gold rush.