The XQ Institute – an organization backed by Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs – has recently announced the winners of a competition it set up aimed at reimagining the American high school. The ten winners of the competition will each receive $10 million in funding.
As reported by the New York Times, The Super School Project was announced a year ago by the Emerson Collective, Ms. Powell Jobs' philanthropic organization.
The initial aim was to give out $50 million in competition winnings to different schools, but because the organization received so many applications, it decided to give out more $10 million awards. Over 700 teams applied, the LA Times reports, and 42 judges examined the applications.
Russlynn H. Ali, chief executive of the XQ Institute and a former assistant secretary for civil rights at the federal Education Department, spoke of the reasons behind the initiative:
"Each of these represent schools that don't exist today.
They are using time in very flexible ways. They are ensuring personalized learning using tech and time, embedded with rigor. That's what each of them have in common."
Ms. Ali also added that American high schools had "stayed the same for 100 years" and were in desperate need of innovation.
One of the winners, the Somerville STEAM Academy in Somerville, Mass., has scrapped standard class periods and will not separate students by age. Rise High in Los Angeles, meanwhile, will be designed for students who are homeless or in foster care. It is set to share locations around the city with medical and mental health centers and will have a mobile classroom to teach students in different locations.
CBS News reports that one school principal, 82 year old Bertie Simmons, nearly fainted when she heard her school was one of the award winners. Furr High School in Houston had been a dropout factory affected by gang violence before Simmons joined. Over 15 years, she transformed the school, reducing crime and raising the graduation rate from barely 50 percent to 90 percent now.
According to the New York Times' Elizabeth A. Harris, the Super School Project is the latest high-profile philanthropic gift to the US education system. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million in 2010 to the struggling education sector in Newark. The money in Newark is widely regarded as having been misspent.
Perhaps with this in mind, Ms.Ali has said that the Super School initiative is more than just a financial investment — it is also a partnership between XQ and the winners of the competition:
"Whether it's bringing in resources and expertise from across the field, we'll figure it out together. Money alone isn't good enough. It never is."
Powell Jobs, whose husband Steve passed away five years ago, declined to be interviewed regarding the Super School initiative. However, Ms. Ali has said that the philanthropist has been very much involved in the initiative.