One of my good friends from high school, an education visionary in his own regard, sent me an excited e-mail (if e-mails can have emotions) a few weeks back announcing his intention to put together a school design team to compete for the XQ super school competition. I hadn’t yet heard of the XQ, but in opening my Facebook page I noticed several of my connections sharing the announcement that Laurene Powell Jobs was sponsoring a 50 million high school redesign competition. I shared the idea with the deputy superintendent of Santa Ana Unified where I work, David Haglund, who enthusiastically invited me to put together a team and start the process of engaging students, community partners, and our own staff in putting together a proposal.
The XQ is an open invitation to design the next great American high school. Of course it’s a call to innovate. Yet it is an invitation that goes beyond setting aside convention. It is a call to draw on what we know about how students are motivated and learn, and then distill that knowledge into a viable educational program. The design of the school is only half of the design challenge – building the organizational capacity to translate a plan into a sustainable, replicable school requires tremendous creativity and leadership. To be frank, this sobering reality makes me think school districts were probably not the target audience of the XQ competition. Fairly or not, school districts are not always associated with nimbleness, flexibility, and risk-taking.
With that said, we’re in it to win it. The XQ builds on our efforts to prioritize creative problem solving and engage our own students and community in conversations about their conceptions of the ideal high school learning environment. Even more importantly, the design and development exercise will strengthen our organizational capacity to more tightly align our programs and systems with what we know about how students learn. It’s a chance to approach our work with fresh eyes. In this sense, the XQ is adding a fun twist to work that we already know we have to be doing.
So this is the first of multiple posts focusing on our journey to the XQ – how we turn both internally and externally to gather ideas, feedback, and insights to inform our design. In reviewing application and promotional materials, we got a very clear sense that like us, the XQ values innovation not only in product but process as well. We wanted to engage stakeholders in a process that would build excitement while simultaneously producing the data we need to make community-informed decisions. We’re now engaging in a series of “design engagements” which represent our initial efforts to utilize a process that is both data rich and collaborative minded. I’ve posted a video of our first design engagement. Check it out.