10 XQ Super Schools Announced: Leading the Way in Rethinking High School

The XQ team saw the massive opportunity to make a difference for every young person in America. As the challenges in our world change faster than ever, too often our schools aren’t changing fast enough to help students meet those challenges.
XQ invited teams to engage in a Discover-Design-Develop process, learning together through knowledge modules and well-architected design. After several phases that processed over 700 applications, 10 Super Schools were announced.
Those who dedicated their time, expertise and energy to #RethinkingHS were rewarded not only with Super School funding to make their dreams a reality for young people, but also with a very unique reveal process. Involved in the announcements were President Obama, MC Hammer, Malala, Arne Duncan, and more.
With deep respect for the Super Schools, it is important to note that XQ — by design — is not only about the challenge: it is about a movement to improve education to better serve students. There have and will be ways for all to engage and learn together.

The XQ Super Schools

New Harmony High, Venice, LA @NewHarmonyHigh
This school on a barge will allow students to research, learn, and seek solutions in the Mississippi River Delta. The school will connect students to “place” in a way that is flexible and dynamic. Principal Bobbie Hill proclaims, “We will make it real for kids as they do the work of the future in coastal restoration. We want the passion to happen in the real world in real-time.”
Furr High School, Houston, TX @FurrHS
The youthful, energetic 82-year-old principal Bertie Simmons reflects, “We were referred to as a throwaway school. I came out of retirement and went there on a mission.” She is determined to transform this school, and says, “Pretty good is not for us. We want an amazing school.We want to be one of the best schools in the nation.” Furr will focus on project-based learning and environmental sustainability.
Grand Rapids Public Museum High School, Grand Rapids, MI @GRMuseum
Talk about place-based learning, with Grand Rapids Public Museum High School, the museum IS the school. Chris Hanks “it’s really about breaking down barriers between school and community. We can tie projects to exhibits right outside our classroom doors.”
Museum High is a great example of #PlaceBasedEd and made the Getting Smart list of  secondary school worth visiting.
RISE High, Los Angeles, CA
RISE’s unique model partners with community agencies to meet the needs of homeless and foster care students. This model, developed by DaVinci Schools (just south of LAX) is built upon partnerships with social service providers and will stop nothing short of a great education for all.
DaVinci is an NGLC winner and was noted recently as a leader in personalized project-based learning.
Powderhouse Studios, Somerville, MA
The Powderhouse model emphasizes exploration, research and design, featuring student-led projects. The school is committed  to “finding out what students are interested in and what they’re priorities are and build a program about them.”
Brooklyn LAB School, Brooklyn, NY @BklynLabSchool,
Co-founders Erin Mote and Eric Tucker, value personalization, “We see to make Brooklyn LAB the connector. We believe all students deserve access.”
At LAB,” said Tucker, “we believe that learning experiences should meet students where they are, engage them deeply in inquiry and mastery, and tailor challenges in a dynamic, personal manner. Data enables our teachers to design and manage personalized learning environments, and to provide students with expert guidance.”
LAB is also an NGLC winner and made the Getting Smart list of secondary school worth visiting.
Design Lab HS, Newark, DE @DesignLabSchoool
I had a chance to talk to a student who it’s much more than a new aspect of learning. It’s the ultimate experience for our students to have a voice. Indeed, they did have a voice. One young student proudly said, “I’m glad we will make a difference in the future. My kids someday will know I was in the first class of the Design Lab.”
Vista Challenge Super School, Vista, CA
After initial success as a personalized learning program within a school, the leadership says that “XQ gave us the permission to think bigger and go to scale so ALL students can experience the benefit. A Vista student reflects, “When we do challenge learning, we think and solve problems”.
Vista USD worked with our friends at Digital Promise on the design.
Washington Leadership Academy, Washington, DC @WLApcs.  
Mayor Muriel Bouser (@MayorBouser) got to make this hometown proud presentation. Described as a school where “Walls talk, books fly, and barriers disappear,” WLA features virtual reality, innovation, and a leadership emphasis.
Summit Elevate, Oakland, CA
Summit is well-known for its innovation (here’s 10 cool things about the model) and will focus on personalization and partnerships while integrating arts and sciences, taking students to new levels of college and career readiness.
Summit is also an NGLC winner and made the Getting Smart list of  secondary school worth visiting.
For more details about the schools, the judging, and the process, check out the XQ website.

Why XQ is Important for Everyone

  • Challenge. With XQ, Emerson took on a big tough challenge, laden with a Gordian knot of tradition, state graduation requirements, college entrance requirements (and the tests that go with them), and the tradition of prom, football and everything else.
  • Framework. The RFP spelled out the challenge well and laid out well-designed criteria. It encouraged student agency and personalized learning
  • Advocacy. The pot of grant dollars was big enough that (with some associated promotion and advertising) it got everybody’s attention.  
  • Support. The support materials (see knowledge modules) were by far the best ever produced for a grant program making the process valuable for everyone that went through the process (not just the 10 declared Super Schools). Thanks to Michele Cahill, Anne McKinnon, Macke Raymond and the XQ team for that gift and for a professional judging process.
  • Vision & Leadership. Laurene Powell Jobs and Russlyn Ali are quite a team and they have engaged some of the brightest minds around to lead the work.

The XQ grants are really big compared to anything prior. Their expectations for innovation are really high as well. Unlike other grant programs requiring matching and lots of fundraising, the winners can get to work knowing they’ll have multi-year support.  
We were pleased to see four of the 10 winners were NGLC grantees. NGLC, through national and regional grant programs, has supported 130 breakthrough high schools.

“The real value of XQ is partly in the promise of the winners and partly — maybe even mostly — in the amazing amount of energy and interest and commitment the program has catalyzed,” said NGLC director Andy Calkins.

It was super invigorating to be involved in a very thorough judging process. I can’t wait to see how these schools  — and others — bring great ideas to life. Here’s what myself and a few other judges had to say about the process:

For more see:

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1 Comment

Andy Calkins

Great blog and observations, Mary! As a fellow judge with you in the XQ process, I join you in congratulating the winners -- along with all of the other teams that worked so hard on their applications and in so many cases have said, "We're going to go ahead with this, no matter what comes out of the judging!" So confirming to see that level of energy, vision, and commitment.
That said: these are ten very promising school models. We're quietly proud that in fact, fully half of them (Summit, Brooklyn LAB/InnovateEDU, Powderhouse -- formerly Somerville STEAM, Da Vinci/RISE, and Washington Leadership Academy) received startup funding through NGLC over the past four years. Good for them for learning and building and holding onto such robust visions, and kudos to XQ for leveraging so much hard, creative work and progress that has already been accomplished.
It'll be fascinating to watch their schools develop, and for all of us to help them however we can.
Andy Calkins, Deputy Director, NGLC

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