XQ’s Challenge to Reimagine High School Sparked a National Movement

Filed under XQ: The Super School Project

It all started with one question: How would you rethink high school?

It all started with one question: How would you rethink high school?

In 2015, XQ Institute issued what has since become the largest open call in history to rethink the century-old public high school system and better prepare our students for the future. More than 45,000 people signed up to join the movement and nearly 700 teams submitted full design applications. In September 2016, XQ launched 10 Super Schools on a journey to make their dreams a reality, and awarded three additional teams for their brilliant ideas.

Super Schools Cohort

The ten Super Schools are a diverse cohort representing a range of XQ domains: breakthrough use of time, use of space, equity, rigor & standards, assessment & accountability, schools as hubs of community, and use of technology in service of learning. While no single school embodies all of these values, each brings forth unique strengths. Combined, they leave few challenges and opportunities behind.

The Super Schools represent ten cities across eight states from Venice, Louisiana, population 2,740, to the city of Los Angeles, California, population nearly four million.

Brooklyn Lab
Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn Laboratory will unleash the untapped potential of its community to build new bridges to student success.

Despite living in the center of Brooklyn’s tech triangle, local students too often grow up isolated from the industries and opportunities surrounding them. Brooklyn Laboratory will break down these barriers, partnering with industry, universities, the arts and more to build bridges to connect students with the new economy. Students will learn at the highest levels of rigor with personalized and integrated student supports. What’s more, Brooklyn Lab will share its lessons learned—and its commitment to the local community—through a rigorous teacher-training model and a residency program.

Newark, Delaware

Design-Lab will put students in a mode of continuous inquiry as they design the world in which they want to live, and discover their places in it.

Design-Lab High School understands the global challenges facing its students, but sees absolutely no limit to the solutions students can design to meet those challenges. With design thinking baked into its DNA, this Super School will be a school based on an R+D framework that continually learns, builds and improves, while encouraging its students to do the same. Whether working on prototypes, podcasts or virtual museum exhibits, an academically rigorous loop of learning will prepare its students (including many first generation college-goers) for the challenges ahead.

Furr High School
Houston, Texas

At Furr High School, students will become environmental-change agents, accelerate their academic growth and transform the comprehensive American high school.

Furr High School will activate learning through a project- and place-based model grounded in the rigors of environmental and nutritional sciences. This large public high school will transform its culture with restorative justice, connect the dots between students and community, and combine Socratic seminars, university and business partnerships, and wrap-around services. Students and teachers will pair with their university counterparts to become “green ambassadors” in important environmental-sustainability research projects.

Grand Rapids Public Museum High School
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids Public Museum High School will turn a museum into a high school, a river ecosystem into a science lab, and community agencies and science experts into partners in teaching and learning.

At Grand Rapids Public Museum High School, the museum is the school. Here, the museum’s collection of 250,000 cultural and historical artifacts will form the basis for its rigorous curriculum and project- and place-based learning environment—including one initiative designed to become the largest river-restoration project in the United States. Co-taught by field experts, scientists and researchers, this Super School will show how to leverage community resources and activate students to become ecological and economic problem solvers on the road to college- and career-readiness.

New Harmony High
Venice, Louisiana

New Harmony will feature a floating classroom where students partner with teachers and scientists to create solutions to the complex problems of community displacement and coastal erosion for their neighborhoods—and the world.

Co-conducting research on coastal erosion with experts and teachers on their learning barge or exploring community displacement and migration at the New Orleans Superdome, students at New Harmony High will study and seek solutions to some of the most complex problems that face their community and all communities impacted by rising sea levels. New Harmony will put rigorous college- and career-ready coursework in context through real-life experiences, creating learning that can resonate and be replicated on a global scale.

Los Angeles, California

RISE High will meet students who are disconnected from school where they are, geographically, academically, socially and emotionally; and will open up clear pathways to college and career.

RISE High will show what is possible when a network of youth-development agencies, educators, municipalities and social-support centers break through silos to create a truly student-centered ecosystem. School sites will be embedded within multiple social-service-provider locations to create a citywide campus allowing RISE students to master a college- and career-ready curriculum in the ways, and at the places, that work best for them. If a student isn’t near a brick-and-mortar campus, RISE’s mobile resource center will drive to the students—so nothing can stop these students from becoming college-, career- and life-ready.

Powderhouse Studios
Somerville, Massachusetts

Independent student-led and teacher-guided projects prepare students for college and life through exploration, research and design.

At Powderhouse Studios, students will collaborate with local scientists, artists and researchers to master rigorous academic topics and become independent investigators of the world around them. Breaking down the limitations of grades, classrooms and subjects, this Super School enables students to work together year-round, in the classroom and beyond. Every student will be supported by an academic and support team, consisting of a social worker, a curriculum developer and a personal project manager to ensure individualized success.

Summit Elevate
Oakland, California

A city on the summit.

Summit Elevate will bring world-class education to Oakland and innovate further, taking student achievement to new levels. At Summit Elevate, students will benefit from learning that integrates fine arts, architecture, and arts and sciences. Partnering with California College of the Arts and Oakland Unified School District, students will truly be “in the driver’s seat” of their own educations, whether selecting their own network of personal advisors and mentors from education and industry, or using the Summit Personalized Learning Platform to ensure college- and career-readiness.

Vista High
Vista, California

This traditional high school plans to shake things up by offering every student a fully personalized, global education.

Serving over 2,600 students, Vista High will prove that rigorous, personalized learning is possible. Report cards will be traded in for a Learning Positioning System that gives each student and their teachers a real-time roadmap of their academic growth. Working in immersive, technology-rich environments and guided by project-based instruction, Vista students will address major global challenges and apply their knowledge to solve local problems affecting them and their communities.

Washington Leadership Academy
Washington, District of Columbia

Washington Leadership Academy will continuously embrace the newest technologies to connect DC students to their world and beyond.

Through augmented and virtual reality and—in the future—holographic modules, this Super School will immerse students in educational experiences currently thought unreachable. Whether embarking on a VR field trip, learning about economics from an industry professional via hologram, or engaging in culturally relevant STEM curricula, Washington Leadership will inspire a love of learning and a growth mindset.

Special Recognition

With so many groundbreaking designs from teams across the country, XQ couldn't stop at just 10 schools. That's why XQ recognized, and will continue to recognize, more of those outstanding ideas, beginning with three:

The Bartleby School

The Bartleby School’s team is comprised of an entire class of students alongside three high school teachers who deeply invested themselves in rethinking what high school can and should be. It was the students who designed this entire school based on what they learned about the history of education in the U.S., the science of adolescent learning, and from educational models around the world. The Bartleby School shows what students can do when they are supported by their teachers, administration, and community.

Iowa BIG

Great schools are not just places where students and teachers go to work and learn. Great schools are hubs within their communities. Places where everyone can help young people prepare for success in college, career, and life. Iowa BIG serves as a nexus, a place where students from across the district work side-by-side to tackle real problems and learn from one another along the way.

Seminole District Public Schools

School districts are at the center of school transformation in America. Seminole County Public School Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin and courageous district leaders were key partners in designing and innovating for their Super Schools Project team. These district leaders use their position to empower students and teachers and offer innovative ideas to imagine a new future for high school learning.


Visit XQ: The Super School Project to learn more about the Super Schools.